Thursday, June 01, 2006

Supreme Court reduce protections for whistleblowers

On Tuesday the Supreme Court in the US ruled to reduce protections for government workers who blow the whistle on official misconduct in a split 5-4 decision. President Bush's appointments to the court seem to have made the difference as it is likely that had Sandra Day O'Connor still been a sitting justice the decision would have gone the other way.

Justice David H. Souter's wrote a lengthy dissenting opinion saying

"Private and public interests in addressing official wrongdoing and threats to health and safety can outweigh the government's stake in the efficient implementation of policy"

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion

"We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties...Official communications have official consequences, creating a need for substantive consistency and clarity. Supervisors must ensure that their employees' official communications are accurate, demonstrate sound judgment, and promote the employer's mission"

The theory is the government can now take disciplinary action againt employees without the risk of facing frivolous lawsuits. There is no doubting that such lawsuits exist but the vast majority of government employees are sensible, dedicated, hard working public servants. To say as Kennedy does, in the land of the first amendment, that government workers should shut up and do as they are told, pursuant to their professional duties, just doesn't ring true. Not a good day for the Bill of Rights.

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