On January 19, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Heffernan v. City of Paterson. Jeffrey Heffernan was a police officer for the City of Paterson, New Jersey. A fellow police officer observed Heffernan picking up a campaign sign for the mayoral candidate running against the incumbent. Although Heffernan disclaimed any political motives and said he was merely picking the sign up for his mother, his supervisor demoted him. Heffernan sued Paterson claiming a violation of his First Amendment rights, but lost on the grounds that, his supervisor’s erroneous belief notwithstanding, the fact that Heffernan was not actually engaged in political activity doomed his claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
The question before the Supreme Court is whether the First Amendment bars the government from demoting a public employee based on a supervisor's perception that the employee supports a political candidate.
To discuss the case, we have Adele Keim, who is counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.