Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The First Amendment Does Protect You from Mistakes

Back in January I wrote here about an amusing case that came before the Supreme Court:
Back in 2006, police detective Jeffrey Heffernan of Paterson, New Jersey, was seen carrying around a yard sign for a candidate in the mayoral election. Actually he was just transporting it for his mother, but when the candidate of that sign lost the election Heffernan was demoted to beat cop. He sued. A jury awarded him $105,000, but the judge vacated the verdict, and an appeals court agreed. After all, Heffernan hadn't actually been exercising his First Amendment rights. He was only mistakenly thought to be exercising his First Amendment rights, and the constitution doesn't say anything at all about that.
Now the court has rendered its verdict, and they found for Heffernan:
The justices, in a 6-to-2 decision, said it was unconstitutional to demote a police officer based on the mistaken assumption that he had engaged in political activity.

“When an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in political activity that the First Amendment protects, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, “even if, as here, the employer makes a factual mistake about the employee’s behavior.”
That seems just to me.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

"That seems just to me."

How could it be anything but just?

If you can't be fired for actual political activity, why should it be possible to fire you for mistaken political activity? If the grounds for termination would be invalid in the case of an accurate accusation, they should be equally invalid in the case of an inaccurate one.