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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What the Supremes' whistleblower decision really means.

Here's part of constitutional lawyer Jack Belkin's take on the Court majority's ruling that the on-the-job speech of government employees is not protected by the First Amendment:

In the original decision in this line of cases, Pickering, the Court suggested that one reason for protecting employee speech is that employees, by their position and expertise, might have information and perspectives that would be particularly valuable contributions to the public in deliberation about public issues. Not all employees would, of course, but enough would that protecting employee speech would leverage their knowledge and expertise.... The Pickering test, as originally conceived, sought to promote the spread and diffusion of valuable information from people who would have reason to know about government policies and whether they made sense or were inefficient, unwise, corrupt, or illegal.

The problem with this vision was that it ran headlong into the government's interest in preserving workplace harmony and managerial efficiency. No employer likes an employee who makes him or her look bad, and this almost always causes strife within the workplace, since the employee who complains is almost always suggesting that someone else did a bad job, was corrupt, or in [LA County prosecutor Richard] Ceballos's case, acted illegally.

Instead, the Court has retreated to a vision of employee speech cases where employees are protected only where they are least likely to be in a position to know what they are talking about ...

After Ceballos, employees who do know what they are talking about will retain First Amendment protection only if they make their complaints publicly without going through internal grievance procedures. Although the Court suggests that its decision will encourage the creation and use of such internal procedures, it will probably not have that effect.... Hence employees will have incentives not to use such procedures but to speak only in public if they want First Amendment protections (note that if they speak both privately and publicly, they can be fired for their private speech). However, if they speak only publicly, they essentially forfeit their ability to stay in their jobs, first because they become pariahs, and second, because they have refused to use the employer's internal mechanisms for complaint (mechanisms which, if they used them, would eliminate their First Amendment rights). In short, whatever they do, they are pretty much screwed. So the effect of the Court's decision is to create very strong incentives against whistleblowing of any kind. (Another possible result of the case is that employees will have incentives to speak anonymously or leak information to reporters and hope that the reporters don't have to reveal their sources).
{Emphasis mine]

Belkin's full post is well worth reading. You'll find it here.

Via Belkinization.

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:08 PM | Get permalink




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