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Public Employees Protected Speech

Lane v. Franks:  The Supreme Court Offers Some 1st Amendment Protection to Public Employees’ Truthful Testimony Under Oath

In Lane v. Franks (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-483_9o6b.pdf) the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether a public employee who was subpoenaed to testify regarding alleged workplace improprieties and truthfully testified had 1st amendment protection.  The Court recognized that employees do not give up their first amendment rights when they sign on to a job, however:

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 Franks Court found that truthful testimony under oath by a public employee outside the scope of his ordinary job duties is speech as a citizen for First Amendment purposes. That is so even when the testimony relates to his public employment or concerns information learned during that employment.

In so ruling, the Court employed a balancing test where they weighed the individual’s interest against the government’s needs as an employer.  The Court held that the government’s side of the scale was “entirely empty” and therefore the rights of the public employee prevailed.

In a concurring opinion, the Court recognized that this case does not address employees who testify as part of the regular job duties such as police officers.

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