LOS ANGELES - The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled against whistleblowers, which will silence public employees who have information about governmental misconduct.
"Public employees should be encouraged to report misconduct. This opinion does the opposite and can only cause government employees who are weighing whether or not to expose wrongdoing to decide to remain silent for fear of losing their jobs," said Peter Eliasberg, Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU of Southern California.
In October, the American Civil Liberties Union submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case Garcetti v. Ceballos on behalf of public employees' First Amendment rights to expose corruption on the job. Justices ruled against Ceballos in a 5-4 vote Tuesday.
In his dissent Justice David Souter wrote: 'Open speech by a private citizen on a matter of public importance lies at the heart of expression subject to protection by the First Amendment.'
The decision effectively bars public employees from reporting misconduct to their supervisors or within the chain of command, but does not keep them from reporting such incidents to the media, Eliasberg said.
The case was originally filed in federal court in Los Angeles in March 2000 and centers around an attempt by Richard Ceballos, a Deputy District Attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, to expose police misconduct. While working on a criminal case, Ceballos wrote a memo to his supervisors saying that he believed a deputy sheriff had falsified an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant in the case. His superiors decided to proceed with the prosecution. After Ceballos informed the defense counsel about his findings, he was subpoenaed to testify at a hearing to dismiss the case. The judge denied the motion and Ceballos was removed from the prosecution's team.
Ceballos said his removal from the prosecution for reporting his concerns to his supervisors was the first of many acts of retaliation for his whistleblowing: He was denied a promotion, demoted to the rank of trial deputy and transferred from Pomona to the El Monte branch of the District Attorney's office.
"In an age of excessive government secrecy, the Court has made it easier to engage in a government cover-up by discouraging internal whistleblowing," said Steven Shapiro, ACLU National Legal Director.
Justice Samuel Alito cast the tie-breaking vote after the cased was argued twice, once before Sandra Day O'Connor and again after Alito joined the bench.