Brief Fact Summary.
Ceballos was a district attorney and helped a defendant by writing a memo and testifying. He then suffered retaliatory employment action. He argued that the retaliation violated his First Amendment rights.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The First Amendment does not shield employees from discipline when they are making expressions pursuant to their professional duties.
The First Amendment protects some expressions related to the speaker's job.View Full Point of Law
Ceballos was a deputy district attorney. A defense attorney contacted him about a pending criminal case in which there were inaccuracies in an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant. Ceballos looked into it and determined that there were serious issues. He raised the issues with the involved parties and his supervisors and sent a memo around recommending dismissal.
The DA’s office decided to proceed with the prosecution. Ceballos was called by the defense attorney to testify about the affidavit. The trial court rejected the challenge to the warrant.
Afterward, Ceballos alleged that he suffered retaliatory employment actions, including reassignment, transfer to another courthouse, and denial of a promotion.
Does the First Amendment shield employees from discipline when they are making expressions pursuant to their professional duties?
No, it does not.
Public employees are still citizens. There should not be a categorical difference between speaking as a citizen and speaking in the course of employment.
Justice Souter (with Stevens and Ginsburg)
Government employers do have interests in choosing policy and objectives, but there are some things that outweigh those interests, like addressing official wrongdoing, threats to health and safety, etc.
Speech on matters of public importance is at the heart of expression protected by the First Amendment.
It should not matter whether a person is speaking as a citizen or a public employee.
This case involves the speech of a lawyer, which is governed by additional standards. Additionally, there are additional constitutional issues, namely prosecutorial obligations. There should therefore be special protections for employee speech in cases such as these.
A public employee does not have a right to object to conditions placed on their terms of employment, including restrictions on constitutional rights.
Not all First Amendment rights are surrendered, but they are limited. Public employees keep First Amendment rights when the employee is speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern. Then, the issue becomes whether the government employer has a reasonable justification for treating the employee different than any other citizen.
Ceballos was not working or speaking as a citizen in this situation. He was conducting his usual job duties, including writing a legal memo.
Thus, Ceballos is not entitled to First Amendment protections in this case.