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PJC Files Amicus in Wrongful Termination for Political Speech case

On October 3, 2008, Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Matthew Hill filed an amicus brief on behalf of the PJC in the Maryland Court of Appeals case Newell v. Runnels, No. 48, September 2008. The brief supported two former employees of the State’s Attorney for Caroline County who sued the current State’s Attorney and the County for terminating their employment because they had engaged in political speech and campaigned for the County’s former State’s Attorney. They contended that the terminations were unlawful as violative of their right to engage in free political expression under the First Amendment and Article 40 of the Md. Declaration of Rights.    
The PJC’s amicus brief strongly supported the right of Maryland’s public employees to engage in the political process without fear of termination. The brief focused on the significance of Maryland’s Anti-Hatch Act to the constitutional balancing test that the Court must perform. Specifically, passing the Anti-Hatch Act, the General Assembly granted the employees of State and local governments the little qualified right to “freely participate in any political activity and express any political opinion.” Viewed in light of the 1939 federal Hatch Act by which Congress asserted the interests of the federal government in ensuring the efficiency of public services over the right of federal employees to engage in political speech, the Anti-Hatch Act reverses the balance: that is, the Anti-Hatch Act repudiates the traditional government interest in placing the efficiency of public services over the right of public employees to engage in political speech. Thus, the State ordinarily will have no compelling interest in terminating a public employee for engaging in political speech and campaigning, and termination to the contrary is unlawful.
The Maryland Employment Lawyers Association joined the PJC as amici on the brief.  Click here to read the brief.

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