The Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in one case today:
Heffernan v. City of Paterson, No. 14-1280: Petitioner Jeffrey Heffernan was a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey. Heffernan was demoted the day after members of the police force saw him holding an election sign and talking to campaign workers of the challenger mayoral candidate, Lawrence Spagnola. The incumbent mayor, Jose Torres, had appointed both the police chief and Heffernan’s direct supervisor to their posts. Heffernan brought a Section 1983 lawsuit, claiming that he had been demoted because he had engaged in conduct that constituted protected speech, and that they had thereby deprived him of the First Amendment rights secured to him by the Constitution. The key factual issue, however, was that Heffernan had not in fact engaged in any constitutionally protected speech. He was not involved in Spagnola’s campaign, but had instead only picked up a sign for his bedridden mother, at her request. Heffernan’s supervisors had been mistaken in their belief that he was engaged in overt involvement with the Spagnola campaign. The District Court found that Heffernan had not engaged in any First Amendment conduct, and that in turn, he had not been deprived of any constitutionally protected right. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the Section 1983 claim required an adverse action stemming from the employee’s actual, rather than perceived, exercise of constitutional rights. Today, the Court reversed, holding that even though the employee had not in fact engaged in protected political activity, his demotion deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution.
The Court's decision is available here.