By MANIFESTO JOE
The stacking of the U.S. Supreme Court with a 5-4 right-wing majority has already been having a chilling effect on free speech and civil liberties in general. The latest outrage was in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and the four dissenting justices, was in effect a ruling that First Amendment protections do not apply to public employees who report government misconduct.
Now, not only free speech but also clean, open government is in peril, because our high court has, by design, lurched so sharply to the hard-core, authoritarian right.
The case stemmed from an attempt by Richard Ceballos, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County, to expose police misconduct. He wrote a memo to his supervisors, the ACLU says, reporting that he believed that a deputy sheriff had falsified an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant.
The prosecution went ahead with the case, and Ceballos told the defense counsel of his findings. He was subpoenaed to testify at a hearing to dismiss the case, but the judge denied the motion, and Ceballos was taken off the prosecution team.
He was later denied a promotion, then demoted and transferred to another branch.
Writing for the court's majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, "We hold that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline."
The New York Times reported that in the dissents, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "The notion that there is a categorical difference between speaking as a citizen and speaking in the course of one's employment is quite wrong." He said, as the Times reported, that the ruling could have a "perverse" effect of giving public employees the incentive to speak publicly, as citizens, before taking matters up with supervisors.
The more likely effect will be that, because public employees will fear reprisals and firings, they won't report abuses. There will be great increases in official misconduct and governmental crime, undisclosed threats to public health, and more and more sinister government secrecy.
As Justice David Souter wrote in a separate dissent, this kind of speech "lies at the heart" of the kind of expression, in the public interest, that the First Amendment was intended to protect.
Once more, in the guise of the right's increasingly transparent pseudo-constructionism, the high court has moved the U.S. a big step closer to the kind of banana republic regime our "conservative" movement seems to lust for.
My wife has experienced the kind of harassment and discrimination that whistleblowers are subjected to. She survived such a climate for years. After nearly a decade in a public-sector job, she opted for early retirement, probably just a step or two ahead of being wrongfully fired by a supervisor. I suspect that the only reason she got out just in time was officials' fear of a lawsuit.
Now, any such restraint on the actions of vindictive supervisors has been stripped away. It will be open season on whistleblowers. And, chalk up another win for those who, while giving lots of lip service to "freedom," are doing all they can to hasten its demise.
Expect Roe v. Wade to be coming into the crosshairs very soon.
MANIFESTO JOE IS AN UNDERGROUND WRITER LIVING IN TEXAS.