Government whistleblowers lost more of their protection at the end of last month when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that severely restricts what government employees can say to guard the public interest.
The ruling came in the case of Garcetti vs Ceballos. Richard Ceballos was a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County, California. He learned that a deputy sheriff made untrue statements to get a search warrant. Ceballos told his superiors of that fact and urged the county drop its case.
The higher-ups ignored Ceballos suggestion and demanded he continue the prosecution. Ceballos next informed the defense attorneys of his findings, as was required by law.
Although he acted lawfully, Ceballos was taken off the case, demoted and reassigned to a different office. His performance is a sterling example of how government workers are supposed to act. He exposed gross misconduct in violation of basic principles of the American system of jurisprudence.
Joanne Royce, general counsel for the Government Accountability Project (GAP), said: The Supreme Courts ruling strikes a shameful blow against free speech rights and a vigorous democracypublic employees ability to serve as guardians of good government are severely restricted by this opinion.
A deeply divided, but majority court …upheld the values of employer control over the traditional American values of freedom and protection of public discourse and professional dissent. This ruling will have a serious chilling effect on the willingness of public employees to risk their livelihood to expose government fraud and waste. Our democratic traditions and the American taxpayer are sacrificed to the altar of employer control.
The ramifications of the courts decision are devastating to public employees who try to speak out in the interest of the American people, GAP said. It said that by restricting the speech of whistleblowers, the Supreme Court has made government more open to fraud and corruption.
GAP said public employee truth-tellers are vital to the safety and welfare of our countrythey uncover corruption, fraud and national security shortcomings. Muzzling those contributions to the nations well-being can have very grave consequences. Without whistleblowers, government is under no compunction to act in an accountable and ethical manner.
Speaking of the court decision, Tom Devine, GAP legal director, said: This decision is outrageous. Canceling the doctrine of duty speech means that government employees only have an on-the-job right to be yes people, parroting false information and enabling illegality. The court alludes to the Whistleblower Protection Act, but it has been weakened by a series of limiting court decisions. House and Senate leaders must schedule a vote on legislation to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act, so that government employees are not punished for speaking in the public interest. This bill has been unanimously approved by congressional committees for the last two congresses, but the leadership has refused to schedule an up-or-down vote. It is time for Congress to act.
From the June 7-13, 2006, issue