fb tracking

Sinegal v. Polk

Dawn Polk ran for Justice of the Peace in Jefferson County, Texas, campaigning against the incumbent, Tom Gillam III. During the campaign, Polk’s supervisor, County Commissioner Michael Sinegal, complained to her about the position her candidacy put him in. When she returned to work after losing the election, Sinegal terminated her employment.

Polk sued Sinegal for violating the First Amendment by retaliating against her based on her protected speech. Specifically, she alleged that Sinegal retaliated against her for speaking out against and opposing Gillam. The district court determined that there was a genuine issue of material fact on the question whether Polk’s termination was motivated by her speech, and denied Sinegal’s motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Sinegal filed a petition seeking review in the Supreme Court.  The petition listed the questions presented as: 1) Whether candidacy for political office, standing alone, is a protected right under the First Amendment, and (2) Did the Fifth Circuit err in holding that Sinegal was not entitled to qualified immunity when Fifth Circuit precedent did not clearly establish that candidacy alone was a protected First Amendment right until a year after Polk’s termination?

Public Citizen served as co-counsel for Ms. Polk in opposing the petition. Our brief in opposition explained that the case did not present the question whether candidacy alone is a protected right under the first amendment, that Sinegal did not raise that question below, that the case did not implicate a circuit split, and that the court of appeals’ decision was correct. The Supreme Court denied the petition.