Garcetti v. Ceballos: Balancing Employee Free Speech with Efficient Operation of Schools in the United States of America

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Australia & New Zealand Journal of Law & Education


Free Speech, School Employees, Garcetti v. Ceballos


In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court opened a Pandora’s Box of constitutional free speech interpretative issues with its pronouncement in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that teachers did not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Since Tinker, the Supreme Court has had several occasions to reconsider the appropriate limits to school employee free expression. In Pickering v Board of Education of Township High School District 205, Will County and Connick v Myers, the Court fashioned a test balancing employee speech on an issue of public concern with the employers’ need to efficiently operate and manage their workplaces. The Pickering and Connick test has not been easy for federal courts to interpret since it requires a two-step analysis: whether employee speech concerns a matter of public concern: and, whether public concern speech should nonetheless be prohibited if it interferes with employer efficiency. In 2006, the Supreme Court, in Garcetti v Ceballos, fashioned what appears to be a much simpler employee free speech test with employees having no constitutionally protected free speech if it relates to their job duties. In effect, the Garcetti test has changed free speech analysis from the content of employee speech to the nature of the employment relationship. The Garcetti test has already had a significant impact on employee free speech and this article will discuss those changes.