Supreme Court Rules Against Government Whistleblowers

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The Government Accountability Project said in a May 30 statement on the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos:  Today, the Supreme Court severely limited the rights of government employee whistleblowers to protect the public interest. Through its ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Court holds that government employees’ job-related speech is not protected by the first amendment, a significant departure from prior law.  Public employee truth-tellers are essential to the safety and welfare of our country.  Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director, commented “This decision is outrageous. Canceling the doctrine of ‘duty speech’ means that government employees only have an on-the-job right to be ‘yes people,’ parroting false information and enabling illegality.”

Washington Post story on the ruling.

Full text of the GAP news release:

Government Accountability Project
National Office
1612 K Street, NW Suite #1100 Washington, D.C. 20006
202.408.0034 http://www.whistleblower.org
May 30, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director
Phone:  202.408.0034 ext. 137, cell 202.236.3733
Email:    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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Supreme Court Rules against Government Whistleblowers
Garcetti v. Ceballos Ruling Undermines Public Employees First Amendment Rights
Washington, DC—Today, the Supreme Court severely limited the rights of government employee whistleblowers to protect the public interest. Through its ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Court holds that government employees’ job-related speech is not protected by the first amendment, a significant departure from prior law.
               
“The Supreme Court’s ruling strikes a shameful blow against free speech rights and a vigorous democracy public employees’ ability to serve as guardians of good government are severely restricted by this opinion,” stated Joanne Royce, GAP General Counsel. A deeply divided, but majority court, today upheld the values of “employer control” over the traditional American values of freedom and protection of public discourse and professional dissent. This ruling will have a serious chilling effect on the willingness of public employees to risk their livelihood to expose government fraud and waste. Our democratic traditions and the American taxpayer are sacrificed to the altar of “employer control.”
GAP’s amicus curie brief to the Court regarding the case, written by Royce and GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, can be found at: http://www.whistleblower.org/doc/Ceballos%20amicus%20GAP%20NELA%20ATLA.pdf.
The case before the court was that of Richard Ceballos, a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County, California who learned that a deputy sheriff lied to obtain a search warrant, Ceballos advised his superiors of the wrongdoing, and recommended that the county drop its case. His recommendation was ignored, and his superiors demanded that he continue with the prosecution. Ceballos then informed the defense of his findings, as required by law.  Despite the fact that he had acted in a lawful fashion, Ceballos was removed from the case, demoted, and transferred to a different office. Ceballos ordeal is a shining example of how ethical government workers are supposed to act—he exposed misconduct that was in gross violation of the underpinnings of the American justice system. It is a tragedy that the Supreme Court allowed the government to penalize such principled behavior.
The ramifications of the Supreme Courts decision are devastating to public employees who choose to speak out in the interest of the American people. By restricting the speech of whistleblowers, the Supreme Court has made government more susceptible to fraud and corruption. Public employee truth-tellers are essential to the safety and welfare of our country—they expose corruption, fraud, and national security shortcomings. The muzzling of such vital contributors to the nations well-being will certainly have grave consequences. Without whistleblowers, government will no longer be compelled to act in an accountable and ethical fashion.
Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director, commented “This decision is outrageous. Canceling the doctrine of duty speechՓ means that government employees only have an on-the-job right to be yes people,” parroting false information and enabling illegality. The Court alludes to the Whistleblower Protection Act, but it has been weakened by a series of limiting court decisions. House and Senate Leaders must schedule a vote on legislation to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act, so that government employees are not punished for speaking in the public interest. This bill has been unanimously approved by Congressional committees for the last two Congresses, but the leadership has refused to schedule an up-or-down vote. It is time for Congress to act.
GAP has been an outspoken advocate of Ceballos’ cause, because we see it as a vital stop-gap in the protection of employees who speak out, to protect the public interest, about wrong-doing.  In this case, Ceballos speech protects the integrity of the criminal investigation process, and that is vital.  (See our October 2005 New York Times Op-ed by GAP Communications Director Dylan Blaylock and FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley, available at http://whistleblower.org/content/press_detail.cfm?press_id=322).
GAP staff will be available for comment throughout the day. Please contact Dylan Blaylock at 202.408.0034 ext 137, or 202.236.3733 (cell).
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA.

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