March 19, 2013
Shinar on Public Employee Speech and the Privatization of the First Amendment
Adam Shinar (S.J.D. Candidate, Harvard Law School) has just posted on SSRN his forthcoming piece in the Connecticut Law Review entitled: Public Employee Speech and the Privatization of the First Amendment.
Here is the abstract:
Constitutional protection of public employee speech has been declining for the past forty years, yet the reason for the decline has remained elusive. This article puts forward a novel theory situating public employee speech in larger structural transformations in governmental organization. It identifies a “public/private convergence,” the main feature of which is that public officials are increasingly viewed as private employees, resulting in a significant erosion of their free speech rights. This erosion is exacerbated by rising levels of privatization and civil service reforms exhibiting the same mode of thought, that public employees are no different from private employees. These trends have far reaching First Amendment implications that up until now have remained largely unexplored.
Against this background, the article argues that the privatization of public employee speech doctrine should be reconsidered for three main reasons. First, it overlooks the ways in which the public sector does not operate like the market. Second, it risks eroding the unique norms and culture the civil service aims to foster. Finally, it undermines a system of internal checks on state power that are especially important given the reduction in external monitoring capacity. Accordingly, the article proposes two directions for reform: a doctrinal framework that resolves the problems with the Court’s current position, and a new governance framework that relies on internal regulatory channels to encourage public employee voice.
I have had the privilege of commenting on earlier drafts of this paper and it is one of the finest papers on public employment free speech law that I have read in quite a while. It is comprehensive, insightful, and seeks to answer a question concerning why public employee speech is being treated more like (less legally protected) private employee speech in the United States. Adam draws on a wide range of interdiscplinary scholarship for his findings and he concludes by seeking to establish broader First Amendment free speech protections for public employees so that they can speak out freely in the public interest.
Check it out!
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Really interesting paper. Of course, another tack would be to agree with the erosion of the public-private distinction in this context but to argue that the speech rights of private-sector employees should be raised to the level that public-sector employees used to and to a large extent still do enjoy.
Posted by: Sam Bagenstos | Mar 19, 2013 12:28:14 PM