High Court Kills Whistleblower Protection

Discussion in 'Law and Justice System' started by jillian, May 31, 2006.

  1. jillian
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    jillian Princess Supporting Member

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    High court trims whistleblower rights By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

    Tue May 30, 5:54 PM ET

    WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court scaled back protections for government workers who blow the whistle on official misconduct Tuesday, a 5-4 decision in which new Justice Samuel Alito cast the deciding vote.

    In a victory for the Bush administration, justices said the 20 million public employees do not have free-speech protections for what they say as part of their jobs.

    Critics predicted the impact would be sweeping, from silencing police officers who fear retribution for reporting department corruption, to subduing federal employees who want to reveal problems with government hurricane preparedness or terrorist-related security.

    Supporters said that it will protect governments from lawsuits filed by disgruntled workers pretending to be legitimate whistleblowers.

    The ruling was perhaps the clearest sign yet of the Supreme Court's shift with the departure of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the arrival of Alito.

    A year ago, O'Connor authored a 5-4 decision that encouraged whistleblowers to report sex discrimination in schools. The current case was argued in October but not resolved before her retirement in late January.

    A new argument session was held in March with Alito on the bench. He joined the court's other conservatives in Tuesday's decision, which split along traditional conservative-liberal lines.

    Exposing government misconduct is important, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. "We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties," Kennedy said.

    The ruling overturned an appeals court decision that said Los Angeles County prosecutor Richard Ceballos was constitutionally protected when he wrote a memo questioning whether a county sheriff's deputy had lied in a search warrant affidavit. Ceballos had filed a lawsuit claiming he was demoted and denied a promotion for trying to expose the lie.

    Kennedy said if the superiors thought the memo was inflammatory, they had the authority to punish him.

    "Official communications have official consequences, creating a need for substantive consistency and clarity. Supervisors must ensure that their employees' official communications are accurate, demonstrate sound judgment, and promote the employer's mission," Kennedy wrote.

    Stephen Kohn, chairman of the National Whistleblower Center, said: "The ruling is a victory for every crooked politician in the United States."

    Justice David H. Souter's lengthy dissent sounded like it might have been the majority opinion if O'Connor were still on the court. "Private and public interests in addressing official wrongdoing and threats to health and safety can outweigh the government's stake in the efficient implementation of policy," he wrote.

    Souter was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Stephen Breyer also supported Ceballos, but on different grounds.

    The ruling upheld the position of the Bush administration, which had joined the district attorney's office in opposing absolute free-speech rights for whistleblowers. President Bush's two nominees, Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, signed onto Kennedy's opinion but did not write separately.

    "It's a very frightening signal of dark times ahead," said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project.

    Employment attorney Dan Westman said that Kennedy's ruling frees government managers to make necessary personnel actions, like negative performance reviews or demotions, without fear of frivolous lawsuits.

    Ceballos said in a telephone interview that "it puts your average government employee in one heck of a predicament ... I think government employees will be more inclined to keep quiet."

    Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a statement that the ruling "allows public employers to conduct the people's business without undue disruption and without turning routine personnel decisions into federal cases."

    The court's decision immediately prompted calls for Congress to strengthen protections for workers.

    Kennedy said that government workers "retain the prospect of constitutional protection for their contributions to the civic discourse." They do not, Kennedy said, have "a right to perform their jobs however they see fit."

    The case is Garcetti v. Ceballos, 04-473.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060530/ap_on_go_su_co/scotus_free_speech_8
     
  2. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    Jillian, other than the fact that you posted this, do you have any personal commentary? Opinion?
     
  3. jillian
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    jillian Princess Supporting Member

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    I thought the thread title said my opinion. ;)

    Was more interested in seeing what others think about it. I'll jump in. :cheers2:

    What do you think of it? You're up on this stuff.
     
  4. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    I'll wait for you. Your thread title was a fact, what's your opinion?
     
  5. jillian
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    jillian Princess Supporting Member

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    My opinion is that they just made it so no one will want to speak out when they see something wrong going on and that if they can be "disciplined" then their right to speak doesn't exist and there's no longer a public policy of encouraging people to speak out.
     
  6. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    I read this in the morning, Chicago Tribune. I thought then and think now that we'd have to establish the threshold of the memo writer. It seems to me that what the SCOTUS was saying is that before one writes a memo, they better know what the heck they are speaking of. The simple act of 'whistle blowing', is not to be defined by the blower?
     
  7. jillian
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    jillian Princess Supporting Member

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    Whistle blowing HAS to be defined by the whistleblower. The employer certainly isn't going to give them the go-ahead for speaking out. I agree with Souter's dissent. There has to be a balance.
     
  8. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    Wrong. You are my boss. You think I'm not pulling my weight. I write a memo saying XXX, where is the due process?

    The simple act of whistle blowing, does not fact make.
     
  9. jillian
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    jillian Princess Supporting Member

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    Well, four of the Justices agreed with me, so I'd say I'm in good company. :)

    It wouldn't be the boss writing the memo. It would be the underling reporting his boss' misconduct or misfeasance of some type since an underling wouldn't have the power to retaliate against his employer.

    The facts as laid out in the Court's Decision:

     
  10. Gunny
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    Gunny Gold Member

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    Not a good day to be a stool pigeon.
     

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