Law School Case Brief
Garcetti v. Ceballos - 547 U.S. 410, 126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006)
When public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the United States Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.
Respondent Ceballos, a supervising deputy district attorney, was asked by defense counsel to review a case in which the counsel claimed that the affidavit police used to obtain a critical search warrant was inaccurate. After the review, Ceballos determined that the affidavit made serious misrepresentations and he relayed his findings to his supervisors (petitioners) and followed up with a disposition memorandum recommending dismissal. The petitioners nevertheless proceeded with the prosecution. At a hearing on a defense motion to challenge the warrant, Ceballos recounted his observations about the affidavit but the trial court rejected the challenge. Claiming that petitioners retaliated against him for his memo in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Ceballos filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit. The District Court granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment, ruling, inter alia, that the memo was not protected speech because Ceballos wrote it pursuant to his employment duties. Reversing, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the memo's allegations were considered protected speech under the First Amendment.
Was the memo in question, written by respondent Ceballos pursuant to his employment duties as a deputy district attorney, a protected speech under the First Amendment?
The Supreme Court of the United States held that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, such employees are not speaking as private citizens for First Amendment purposes. Thus, the First Amendment does not prohibit managerial discipline of such employees for such speech. In the case at bar, the Court ruled that Ceballos’ allegation of unconstitutional retaliation failed because he had spoken not as a private citizen, but pursuant to his official duties as a prosecutor fulfilling a responsibility to advise his supervisor about how best to proceed with a pending case. The Court reversed the judgment.
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