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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Justice Alito Participates in First 5-4 Ruling

Today, Justice Alito cast his first vote in closely divided case -- the Supreme Court 's 5-4 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy, denied a government whistleblower protection under the First Amendment. Establishing a significant precedent, the decision categorically wipes out the constitutional free speech rights of public employees who express themselves in the course of their official work duties. There are upwards of 20 million public employees in the United States. Joining Justice Kennedy were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.

The case involved a Los Angeles County assistant district attorney who, after exposing the sheriff department's use of a misleading warrant, claimed his supervisors illegally retaliated against him. The majority ruled against him, finding 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.”

Justice Stevens authored a strongly-worded dissent attacking the majority's ruling as "perverse" and "misguided." Stevens noted that "[T]he notion that there is a categorical difference between speaking as a citizen and speaking in the course of one's employment is quite wrong." Justice Souter, joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, authored a separate dissenting opinion, as did Justice Breyer, who wrote for himself.

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