Friday, September 13, 2013
Emily Gold Waldman shared this analysis with us:
When the Supreme Court held in Garcetti v. Ceballos that public employees do not have First Amendment protection for speech that they utter pursuant to their official duties – even if that speech is on a matter of public concern – it created a special carve-out. Responding to a concern raised in Justice Souter’s dissent about professors’ academic freedom, the majority explicitly stated that it was not deciding “whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.” Since then, lower courts have had to grapple with two questions: (1) how does Garcetti apply to K-12 teachers’ job-related speech? and (2) how does Garcetti apply to university professors’ job-related speech?
So far, the circuits have been unanimous that Garcetti indeed applies to K-12 teachers’ job-related speech (essentially their classroom speech, the main aspect of their job). See, e.g., Johnson v. Poway Unified School District, 658 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2011); Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education, 624 F.3d 33d (6th Cir. 2010); Mayer v. Monroe County, 474 F.3d 477 (7th Cir. 2007). In other words, once the court finds that the teacher was speaking in her capacity as an employee rather than as a private citizen, the teacher loses her First Amendment claim.
By contrast, circuits are starting to hold that Garcetti does not apply to university professors’ job-related speech (i.e., their teaching and writing). The Fourth Circuit so held in 2011, see Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, 640 F.3d 550 (4th Cir. 2011), and the Ninth Circuit reached the same conclusion last week in Demers v. Austin, 2013 WL 4734033 (9th Cir. 2013). Both circuits reasoned that the Garcetti Court had explicitly reserved judgment on this sort of speech, and that applying the Garcetti framework to the teaching and writing of public university professors would imperil their academic freedom. (Indeed, they would have no First Amendment protection for such speech; their only protection would depend on their contractual arrangements with their universities.)
This distinction makes sense, and I think other circuits will probably follow the trend of holding that Garcetti applies to K-12 public school teachers’ classroom speech, but not to public university professors’ teaching and writing. The one odd thing about Demers is that the Ninth Circuit used such broad language in several places– stating that “there is an exception to Garcetti for teaching and academic writing” – that it almost could be read to encompass K-12 teachers as well as university professors. If it weren’t for the Ninth Circuit’s earlier decision in Johnson v. Poway – where it specifically applied Garcetti to a high-school teacher’s classroom speech – I’d really be wondering about this. In any event, it will be interesting to see how other circuits – and ultimately the Supreme Court? – weigh in on these questions.