By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
The United States Supreme Court, in a decision issued a few months ago, in Rowland v. State Emples. Bargain Agent Coalition, 2014 U.S. LEXIS 728 (U.S. Jan. 21, 2014), strengthened the rights of law enforcement officer First Amendment rights. The decision, which was simply to let a lower appeals court decision stand, has the potential to further expand the area of First Amendment law for police officers.
The Rowland First Amendment Case
The Rowland case essentially involved the actions of the State of Connecticut in laying off police officers and other state employees, selectively based, solely on their union membership. Apparently, as a result of intense labor negotiations, the State of Connecticut informed the police and other unions that unless they agreed to concessions that they would fire 3,000 unionized employees. Total agreement on these labor issues was not reached and the State of Connecticut then fired 3,000 unionized employees, including police officers (they did not fire any non-union employees).
The police and other unions sued, claiming that the state violated the First Amendment by only firing union employees. The Second Circuit and ultimately the Supreme Court by refusing to disturb the decision, agreed, finding that the Constitution protected the right of free association in union activities. The Second Circuit stated that "[c]onditioning public employment on union membership, no less than on political association, inhibits protected association and interferes with government employees' freedom to associate." The Second Circuit then ruled on behalf of the police and other unions in this case, granting them a victory on the issue of state liability.
First Amendment Implications Following Rowland
The Rowland ruling, along with other cases, could equally apply to police officer rights to freely belong to political groups or other types of organizations. The Second Circuit was quick to dismiss the State of Connecticut's decision to terminate only union employees under the First Amendment. The Second Circuit found that the state was unable to explain why the state's fiscal health required firing only union member, rather than across all employees.
This, along with earlier cases, only goes to strengthen police officer rights under the First Amendment. A copy of the case can be found here Rowland Second Circuit Ruling
When a law enforcement officer is faced with First Amendment issues in the workplace, it is important for them to have counsel. Our law firm advises and represents law enforcement officers in First Amendment matters. We can be contacted at Berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. The Firm's Facebook page can be found here Berry & Berry Facebook Page.