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Garcetti v. Ceballos

Topic(s): First Amendment
Workers' Rights
Citation: 126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006)
Docket: 04-473


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Public Citizen represented Los Angeles County prosecutor Richard Ceballos in this significant public employee First Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case presented the question whether a public employee who speaks on a matter of public concern in the workplace loses his First Amendment protection against retaliation by his employer for the sole reason that he communicated his message while performing his job. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in Ceballos's favor, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the dispute, which was argued in October 2005, and then reheard on March 21, 2006.

Here, Ceballos reported to his supervisors that he believed that a police officer had falsified an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant in a criminal matter under the prosecutor's supervision. His superiors retaliated by taking several adverse actions against him. His supervisors, the District Attorney, Los Angeles County, and the U.S. Department of Justice as a friend of the court urge the Supreme Court to rule that public employee speech should automatically excluded from First Amendment protection if it is communicated as part of the employee's job duties — regardless of whether the speech addresses a matter of public concern or disrupts the workplace. Public Citizen argued on Ceballos's behalf that this drastic curtailment of a fundamental constitutional protection is contrary to the Supreme Court's precedents, would stifle or punish speech of critical importance to the public, and would cause many whistleblowers to remain silent or to air problems in the media instead of pursuing internal channels of communication.

Question presented:

Does a prosecutor who speaks on a matter of public concern by reporting suspected police misconduct to his superiors lose his First Amendment protection against retaliation by his employer solely because he communicated his message while performing his job?

Bonnie Robin-Vergeer of Public Citizen represented the respondent in the Supreme Court, which held in favor of the petitioner.

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