Amicus: The Case of the Missing Constitutional Violation

A public employee was demoted for a political position his employer mistakenly attributed to him. Was it a First Amendment violation?

Listen to Episode 35 of Slate’s Amicus:

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In 2006, a police officer in New Jersey was spotted carrying a campaign sign for the mayor’s opponent. He was promptly demoted, even though it turned out he did not actually support that opponent and was merely delivering the sign to his mother. Still, the police officer sued his employer, claiming that the demotion was a violation of his First Amendment rights.


Last week, that case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue in Heffernan v. City of Paterson is whether the Constitution can be invoked at all when there is no real act of speech or association that has transpired. Dahlia discusses the case with UCLA legal historian Stuart Banner, who filed the case on behalf of Jeffrey Heffernan. She is also joined by Tom Goldstein, who argued the case on behalf of the city of Paterson.

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Podcast production by Tony Field.