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Heffernan v. City of Paterson was a U.S.

Supreme Court case concerning the First

Amendment rights of public employees, decided on April 26, 2016. Jeffrey Heffer
nan, a detective with the Paterson, New Jersey, police force, was seen with a la
wn sign for the candidate challenging the city's incumbent mayor. Heffernan's su
pervisors mistakenly thought that he was actively supporting the challenger and
demoted him. He brought suit alleging that his demotion violated his right to fr
ee speech. Writing for a majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer (
pictured) cited the Court's precedents, which had held that it is unconstitution
al for a government agency to discipline an employee for engaging in partisan po
litical activity, as long as that activity is not disruptive to the agency's ope
rations. Even if Heffernan was not actually engaging in protected speech, he wro
te, the discipline against him sent a message to others to avoid exercising thei
r rights. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice
Samuel Alito, in which he agreed that Heffernan had been harmed but not that his
constitutional rights had been violated. (Full article...)
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