Heffernan v. City of Paterson

Posted: October 26, 2015 by beguide in case summaries, Free Speech, Government Action, Politics
Tags: ,

WHAT HAPPENED:  Plaintiff is a police officer who was disciplined by his job for engaging in political speech.  The speech in question was Plaintiff helping his mother pick up a political sign for her home, when police officers in this City were told not to take any action related to the upcoming political campaign.  When confronted by his job, Plaintiff argued that he was not engaged in political speech but just helping his mom.  This is a perfectly good argument, That is until….

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  Lawyers get involved and Plaintiff sues for violating his civil rights through his on-the-ob discipline.  Whereas Plaintiff first argues that he is not engaged in speech to avoid getting punished at work, at trial Plaintiff argues that the punishment violates his Free Speech rights under the First Amendment.  After some general tomfoolery with the trial court level, Plaintiff’s case is dismissed before trial, as the Court held that no reasonable jury could find that defendant engaged in political speech.  That is until….

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE DECISION: You consider that Plaintiff’s job certainly believed he was engaged in political speech which started this whole mess to begin with.  On a specific level, this case has few ramifications, as the nuances of each side flip-flopping their use of Free Speech as a sword and shield will probably render a decision in this case that is uninteresting and unrelated to political speech and campaign support from government officials.  The more interesting argument is whether or not the government’s mistaken belief that someone engaged in Free Speech should take precedence over what the person speaking actually intended.  If all the stars align, you could get an interesting decision on whether the Free Speech is there to protect the person making the speech or to prevent the government from banning the speech, which would tip the hands of the Court when it comes to this somewhat decisive issue.  That’s probably not going to happen in the final decisions, but an interesting thing to look for in the oral arguments.

WHAT IS THE RULING:  This case is not yet decided.

YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR HEFFERNAN:  If your view of the First Amendment includes protecting bad-boy police officers who don’t “play by the rules” and don’t “fit within the system”, like Ole’ Farva from Super Troopers.

YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE CITY OF PATERSON:  If your view of the First Amendment does not include giving free passes to bad-boy police officers who don’t “follow direction” and “obey orders”, like Ole’ Farva from Super Troopers.

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