Connick v. Myers

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In Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 146 (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court held that government may fire an employee who for distributed a questionnaire concerning internal office affairs. In other words, when public employees speak on matters of private concern, there is little First Amendment protection .

The Court explained that while the state generally is prohibited from punishing the expression of private sentiments:[1]

when a public employee speaks not as a citizen upon matters of public concern, but instead as an employee upon matters only of personal interest, absent the most unusual circumstances, a federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the wisdom of a personnel decision taken by a public agency allegedly in reaction to the employee's behavior.

An example of speech on a "private concern" is counseling by a social worker to a single patient within the confines of a counseling session.

In the employee and independent-contractor contexts and when the speech at issue does not address a matter of public concern, government officials must have "wide latitude in managing their offices, without intrusive oversight by the judiciary in the name of the First Amendment," the Court held.

Two tests to review the termination of government employees have developed based on Connick:

  • In one test, courts examine "the content, form, and context of a given statement" to determine "whether an employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern."[2]
  • In the second, "shorthand", approach is the "citizen-employee test.":[3]
"When a public employee speaks not as a citizen upon matters of public concern, but instead as an employee upon matters only of personal interest, absent the most unusual circumstances, a federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the wisdom of a personnel decision taken by a public agency allegedly in reaction to the employee's behavior."

Justice Byron White wrote this 5-4 decision, and Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens dissented.

References

  1. Id. at 147.
  2. Connick, 461 U.S. at 147-48. See also Bradshaw v. Pittsburg Indep. Sch. Dist., 207 F.3d 814, 818 (5th Cir. 2000); Teague v. City of Flower Mound, 179 F.3d 377, 383 (5th Cir. 1999).
  3. Connick, 461 U.S. at 147
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