United States Supreme Court to review First Amendment challenge to police officer’s demotion after obtaining campaign sign

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in 13 cases Thursday, including Heffernan v. City of Paterson.

In Heffernan, Jeffrey Heffernan, a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey, was demoted after being seen picking up a campaign sign of a local mayoral candidate for his mother. Heffernan filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of his 1983 claim on summary judgment, reasoning:

Because Heffernan has failed to come forward with evidence that he actually exercised his First Amendment rights, and because claims of retaliation based only on the perceived exercise of those rights are foreclosed by Fogarty v. Boles, 121 F.3d 886, 888 (3d Cir. 1997), we will affirm the District Court’s order.

The question before the Supreme Court is as follows: Does the First Amendment bar a local government from demoting one of its employees because a supervisor believed that the worker supported a political candidate?

Oral arguments in Heffernan will likely begin in January or February.

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