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Law School Case Brief

Pickering v. Bd. of Educ. - 391 U.S. 563, 88 S. Ct. 1731 (1968)

Rule:

The theory that public employment which may be denied altogether may be subjected to any conditions, regardless of how unreasonable, has been uniformly rejected. At the same time, it cannot be said that the State has interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees that differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general. The problem in any case is to arrive at a balance between the interests of the teacher, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. 

Facts:

A few days after a proposal to increase school taxes was defeated by local voters, Pickering, a public school teacher, wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper criticizing the way in which the board of education and the superintendent of schools had handled past proposals to raise new revenue for the schools. After the letter was published, the board of education determined that its publication was detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district and that the interests of the school required Pickering’s dismissal. The Circuit Court of Will County, Illinois, upheld the dismissal, and the Supreme Court of Illinois, two justices dissenting, affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court and rejected the teacher's contention that his remarks and comments in the letter were protected by the constitutional right of free speech.

Issue:

Were Pickering’s remarks and comments in the letter protected by constitutional right of free speech, thus rendering her dismissal from public employment unjustified?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that in the absence of proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by the teacher, his right to speak on issues of public importance could not furnish the basis for his dismissal, and that under the circumstances of the case at hand, Pickering’s dismissal violated his constitutional right to free speech. The Court further held that Pickering’s remarks and comments in the letter were neither shown nor could be presumed to have interfered with his performance of his teaching duties or the schools' general operation, thus, his dismissal from public employment was not justified.

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