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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 gainsaid 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, appellant Marvin L. Pickering, a teacher in high school operated by appellee Board of Education of Township High School District 205, Will County, Illinois ("Board"), wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper criticizing the way the Board and the superintendent of schools had handled past proposals to raise new revenue for the schools. After the letter was published, the Board 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. Pickering filed a lawsuit in Illinois state court against the Board seeking review of the Board's decision to terminate his employment. The trial court upheld the dismissal. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the trial court's judgment and rejected Pickering’s contention that his remarks and comments in the letter were protected by the constitutional right of free speech. 

Issue:

Was Pickering's writing of the letter protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States held that it was free to make an independent review of the facts because the state courts had not done so. In a case in which the fact of employment was only tangentially and insubstantially involved in the subject matter of the public communication made by Pickering, it was necessary to regard him as the member of the general public he sought to be. Absent proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by him, a teacher's exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance could not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment. As no such showing had been made by the Board, the Court held that Pickering's rights to freedom of speech were violated.

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