Loading...

Appeals Court Says Judicial Workers Can Engage in Political Activities

August 17, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Appeals Court Says Judicial Workers Can Engage in Political Activities
District of Columbia Court of Appeals. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., this week refused to allow a series of restrictions on the political activity of some judicial workers.

The court’s ruling said the two workers who sued to block the restrictions have a First Amendment right of free speech that was being infringed.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts was trying to avoid conflicts of interest by ordering its employees to abstain from activities that indicate political advocacy. Its administrators wanted to eliminate any image the judiciary was biased when they instituted the rules in 2018.

So far, the decision applies only to the two plaintiffs but the court recommended a review to see whether other judicial workers with similar job responsibilities should be included.

“We certainly hope that the Administrative Office will take the hint from the court” and expand the court’s ruling to more of its employees, Scott Michelman, legal director for American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, told The Well News.

The plaintiffs were represented by the ACLU, which hailed the ruling as a victory for First Amendment rights.

Some limitations on political activity still are allowed for employees of the agency who work more directly with judges.

The plaintiffs, Lisa Guffey and Christine Smith, succeeded in 2020 in U.S. District Court in winning an injunction against enforcement of the ban on political activities. The Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction after the Administrative Office appealed.

The Administrative Office, established in 1939, is the main support entity for the federal judiciary. It provides administrative, legal, financial, management and information technology services.

Guffey works for the office’s Defender Services Office. Smith works for its Department of Technology Services. Neither of them influences the outcomes of cases.

Judge Justin Walker wrote that “no one in this case takes issue with the [Administrative Office’s] longstanding prohibition of political speech by its employees when they are at the office. But the AO cannot prohibit political speech by Guffey and Smith when they are away from work and in no way affiliating themselves with the judiciary.”

The restrictions prohibit employees from donating to political campaigns or working for candidates, even on a volunteer basis.

They also banned them from displaying campaign signs or buttons, attending political fundraising events, driving voters to polls to support a party or candidate and organizing political rallies.

The majority opinion said the restrictions are unnecessary in most cases because Administrative Office employees work behind the scenes on clerical duties. They do not participate in adjudicating cases.

Administrative Office attorneys failed to demonstrate even one instance of an employee who hurt the judiciary’s reputation through political activities, the ruling said.

“The AO’s argument focuses on the 30 or so employees who advise judges on sensitive matters like recusals and participation in outside activities,” Walker wrote. “That alone indicates that imposing the restrictions on all 1,100 AO employees — from the HR professional who processes a travel reimbursement to the IT-help-desk worker who assists a judge with a forgotten password — is not ‘reasonably necessary to protect the efficiency of the public service.’”

Attorneys for the Administrative Office also argued Congress might lose confidence in the Administrative Office as a neutral messenger of the judiciary if the employees do anything indicating political favoritism.

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson dissented, saying the 2-1 majority failed to give adequate consideration — or what she called “short shrift” — to the Administrative Office’s attempt to protect the public’s trust in the federal judiciary.

Henderson said, “history, consensus and simple common sense” should justify some restrictions on political activities of judicial workers.

When the lawsuit was filed in 2018, Guffey said in a statement, “During my three decades in public service, I’ve never had to choose between my job and being an active participant in our democracy.”

The Administrative Office was represented by the Justice Department, which so far has declined to comment on the case.

The case is Guffey v. Mauskopf, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, No. 20-5183.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com and @TomRamstack

In The News

Health

Voting

Law

December 2, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Activist Gets Two Months for Blocking DC Beltway During Protest

The 60-day jail sentence a Montgomery County, Maryland, judge imposed this week on a climate activist appears to be part... Read More

The 60-day jail sentence a Montgomery County, Maryland, judge imposed this week on a climate activist appears to be part of a trend among courts to get tough on environmental protesters as they become more aggressive. William Regan, 43, received the sentence after he joined other... Read More

December 2, 2022
by Dan McCue
11th Circuit Removes Special Master in Trump Documents Case

ATLANTA — A federal appeals court has removed a major obstacle to the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into former President... Read More

ATLANTA — A federal appeals court has removed a major obstacle to the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s hoarding of national security records at his Mar-a-Lago residence. In a unanimous but unsigned ruling handed down late Thursday, a three-judge panel of the... Read More

November 28, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Supreme Court Leans Toward Limiting Public Corruption Prosecutions

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court heard a case Monday in which a victory for the defendant would make it... Read More

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court heard a case Monday in which a victory for the defendant would make it harder to prosecute public corruption cases when one of the accused is a private citizen. Statements by the justices during the hearing indicated they believed Justice... Read More

November 19, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Theranos Founder Sentenced to 11 Years for Fraud With Blood Testing Technology

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A judge in San Jose, California, on Friday sentenced former Theranos, Inc., Chief Executive Elizabeth Holmes... Read More

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A judge in San Jose, California, on Friday sentenced former Theranos, Inc., Chief Executive Elizabeth Holmes to more than 11 years in prison for defrauding investors with phony blood-testing technology. "I regret my failings with every cell of my body," a tearful... Read More

November 18, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
DC Sues Washington Commanders Again Claiming Season Ticket Holders Cheated

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia’s attorney general sued the Washington Commanders football team Thursday for allegedly keeping refundable deposits... Read More

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia’s attorney general sued the Washington Commanders football team Thursday for allegedly keeping refundable deposits that were supposed to be returned to season ticket holders. The lawsuit says the team violated Washington, D.C.’s, consumer protection laws. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine... Read More

Same-Sex Marriage Faces Senate Test With GOP Votes Uncertain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Staring down the prospect of divided government in the next Congress, Senate Democrats are moving forward with legislation this... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — Staring down the prospect of divided government in the next Congress, Senate Democrats are moving forward with legislation this week to protect same sex and interracial marriages. It’s a vote that’s “as personal as it gets,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. Schumer is holding... Read More

News From The Well