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Published in Print: March 1, 2006, as High Court to Rehear Case on Free Speech

High Court to Rehear Case on Free Speech

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The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear new arguments in a case being watched closely in the public education community on the free-speech rights of government employees.

On Oct. 12, the court heard arguments in Garcetti v. Ceballos (Case No. 04-473), in which a Los Angeles County prosecutor alleges that his superiors punished him for reporting wrongdoing in his agency in the course of his duties.

Groups representing teachers and school boards are particularly interested in a determination on whether speech that is part of an employee’s job is subject to First Amendment protection. That category can cover such speech as whistleblowing on alleged wrongdoing by employees, as well as potentially other areas of job- related speech. ("Court Mulls Protection for Public-Employee Speech," Oct. 19, 2005.)

Legal experts believe the court’s Feb. 17 announcement likely indicates that the justices were closely divided over the case last fall, and that the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in January left a 4-4 tie. The court’s newest member, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., may now hold the decisive vote.

The new argument is expected to take place before the end of the court’s current term in late June or early July.

School Media Case Declined

Meanwhile, the justices declined on Feb. 21 to hear an appeal that could have tested whether the court’s 1988 decision limiting the free-expression rights of students on a high school newspaper extends to public colleges. Students at Illinois’ Governors State University claimed that an administrator infringed their free-speech rights by reviewing issues of their college newspaper before publication.

The court declined to hear the students’ appeal in Hosty v. Carter (No. 05-377), letting stand without comment an 11-4 ruling last June by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, that the administrator had immunity from the students’ suit.

Vol. 25, Issue 25, Page 22

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