A cut back in protection for individual rights came last term, when the Supreme Court held in Garcetti v. Ceballos that the First Amendment does not protect a government employee from being punished for speech made pursuant to the employee’s official duties. Justice Kennedy wrote the decision in Garcetti for a 5-4 Court that included the new Chief Justice and Justice Alito.
The consequences of the Garcetti decision were dramatized by another recent decision of the Seventh Circuit in Mayer v. Monroe County Community School Corporation. During a current events class, a student asked elementary school teacher Deborah Mayer whether she had ever participated in a political demonstration. Mayer answered that she had once driven past demonstrators holding a “honk for peace” sign and had honked. Hearing of her response, some parents complained, leading the school to dismiss Mayer and to admonish teachers to not take sides in any political controversy in the classroom. The Court of Appeals upheld her firing under Garcetti, stating that a teacher’s speech is a “commodity” that has been sold to the state. Here, a bad Supreme Court decision led to a teacher being fired for simply answering a student’s question.