In these circumstances we conclude that the interest of the school administration in limiting teachers' opportunities to contribute to public debate is not significantly greater than its interest in limiting a similar contribution by any member of the general public. [Crux of the matter]
Petitioner: Marvin L. Pickering
Respondent: Township High School District 205, Will County, Illinois
Venue: Supreme Court of the United States
Opinion of the Court: Pickering v. Board of Education (1968)
Issue(s) Before the Court:
Appellant, on the other hand, argues that the test applicable to defamatory statements directed against public officials by persons having no occupational relationship with them, namely, that statements to be legally actionable must be made "with knowledge that [they were] ... false or with reckless disregard of whether [they were] ... false or not," New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 280 (1964), should also be applied to public statements made by teachers.
The Board contends that "the teacher by virtue of his public employment has a duty of loyalty to support his superiors in attaining the generally accepted goals of education and that, if he must speak out publicly, he should do so factually-and accurately, commensurate with his education and experience."
Holding(s) and Disposition:
The teacher's interest as a citizen in making public comment must be balanced against the State's interest in promoting the efficiency of its employees' public services.
Those statements of appellant's which were substantially cor- rect regarded matters of public concern and presented no questions of faculty discipline or harmony; hence those statements afforded no proper basis for the Board's action in dismissing appellant.
Appellant's statements which were false likewise concerned issues then currently the subject of public attention and were neither shown nor could be presumed to have interfered with appellant's performance of his teaching duties or the schools' general operation. They were thus entitled to the same protection as if they had been made by a member of the general public, .... New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
- A full recounting of the facts is available below
- The Illinois courts reviewed the proceedings solely to determine whether the Board's findings-were supported by substantial evidence and whether, on the facts as found, the Board could reasonably conclude that appellant's publication of the letter was "detrimental to the best interests of the schools."
- Appellant's claim that his writing of the letter was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments was rejected.
- Appellant then sought review of the Board's action in the Circuit Court of Will County, which affirmed his dismissal on the ground that the determination that appellant's letter was detrimental to the interests of the school system was supported by substantial evidence and that the interests of the schools overrode appellant's First Amendment rights.
- On appeal, the Supreme Court of Illinois, two Justices dissenting, affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court.
- We noted probable jurisdiction, of appellant's claim that the Illinois statute permitting his dismissal on the facts of this case was unconstitutional as applied under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.'
Marshall Majority Opinion (Warren, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, Fortas)
- A full description of the rationale is available below
White Concurrance in part, dissent in part (??) (582)
- The core of today's decision is the holding that Pickering's discharge must be tested by the standard of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254 (1964).
- To this extent I am in agreement.
- The Court devotes several pages ... to reject the determination below that Pickering's statements harmed the school system, ante, at 570-573, when the question of harm is clearly irrelevant given the Court's determination that Pickering's statements were neither knowingly nor recklessly false and its ruling that in such circumstances a teacher may not be fired even if the statements are injurious.
- The Court then gratuitously suggests that when statements are found to be knowingly or recklessly false, it is an open question--whether the First Amendment still protects them unless they are shown or can be presumed to have caused harm.
- Deliberate or reckless falsehoods serve no First Amendment ends and deserve no protection under that Amendment.
- The Court unequivocally recognized this in Garrison [v. Louisiana], where after reargument the Court said that "the knowingly false statement and the false statement made with reckless disregard of the truth, do not enjoy constitutional protection."
- The Court today neither explains nor justifies its withdrawal from the firm stand taken in Garrison.
- As I see it, a teacher may be fired without violation of the First Amendment for knowingly or recklessly making false statements regardless of their harmful impact on the schools.
- Nor can I join the Court in its findings with regard to whether Pickering knowingly or recklessly published false statements.
- It would be far more appro- priate to remand this case to the state courts for further proceedings in light of the constitutional standard which the Court deems applicable to this case, once the relevant facts have been ascertained in appropriate proceedings.
Full Recounting of Facts
- In February of 1961 the appellee Board of Education asked the voters of the school district to approve a bond issue to raise $4,875,000 to erect two new schools. The proposal was defeated.
- Then, in December of 1961, the Board submitted another bond proposal to the voters which called for the raising of $5,500,000 to build two new schools. This second proposal passed and the schools were built ....
- In May of 1964 a proposed increase in the tax rate to be used for educational purposes was submitted to the voters by the Board and was defeated.
- Finally, on September 19, 1964, a second proposal to increase the tax rate was submitted by the Board and was likewise defeated.
- It was in connection with this last proposal of the School Board that appellant wrote the letter to the editor (which we reproduce in an Appendix to this opinion) that resulted in his dismissal.
- The letter constituted, basically, an attack on the School Board's handling of the 1961 bond issue proposals and its subsequent allocation of financial resources between the schools' educational and athletic programs.
- The Board dismissed Pickering for writing and pub- lishing the letter.
- Appellant's dismissal resulted from a determination by the Board, after a full hearing, that the publication of the letter was "detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district" and heime, under the relevant Illinois statute, Ill. Rev. Stat., c. 122, § 10-22.4 (1963), that "interests of the school require[d] [his dismissal] ."
- A list of the material facts is available above
Marshall Majority Full Argument (Warren, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, Fortas)
- Part I (565)
- See Material Facts
- See Procedural History
- Part II (568)
- To the extent that the Illinois Supreme Court's opinion may be read to suggest that teachers may constitutionally be compelled to relinquish the First Amendment rights they would otherwise enjoy as citizens to comment on matters of public interest in connection with the operation of the public schools in which they work, it proceeds on a premise that has been unequivocally rejected in numerous prior decisions of this Court.
- At the same time it cannot be gainsaid that the State has interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees that differ sig- nificantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general.
- The problem in any case is to arrive at a balance between the interests of the teacher, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. [emphasis added]
- Part III (568)
- The Board contends that "the teacher by virtue of his public employment has a duty of loyalty to support his superiors in attaining the generally accepted goals of education and that, if he must speak out publicly, he should do so factually-and accurately, commensurate with his education and experience."
- ... we do not deem it either appropriate or feasible to attempt to lay down a general stand- ard against which all such statements may be judged.
- ... we shall indicate some of the general lines along which an analysis of the controlling interests should run.
- The statements are in no way directed towards any person with whom appellant would normally be in contact in the course of his daily work as a teacher.
- Thus no question of maintaining either discipline by immediate superiors or harmony among coworkers is presented here.
- Appellant's employment relationships with the Board and, to a somewhat lesser extent, with the superintendent are not the kind of close working relationships for which it can persuasively be claimed that personal loyalty and confidence are necessary to their proper functioning.
- Accordingly, to the extent that the Board's position here can be taken to suggest that even comments on matters of public concern that are substantially correct, ... may furnish grounds for dismissal if they are sufficiently critical in tone, we unequivocally reject it. [emphasis added]
- We next consider the statements in appellant's letter which we agree to be false.
- However, the only way in which the Board could conclude, absent any evidence of the actual. effect of the letter, that the statements contained therein were per se detrimental to the interest of the schools was to equate the Board members' own interests with that of the schools.
- More importantly, the question whether a school systerm requires additional funds is a matter of legitimate public concern on which the judgment of the school ad- ministration, including the Schobl Board, cannot, in a society that leaves such questions to popular vote, be taken as conclusive.
- What we do have before us is a case in which a teacher has made erroneous public statements upon issues then currently the subject of public attention, which are critical of his ultimate employer but which are neither shown nor can be presumed to have in any way either impeded the teacher's proper performance of his daily duties in the classroom or to have interfered with the regular operation of the schools generally.
- In these circumstances we conclude that the interest of the school administration in limiting teachers' opportunities to contribute to public debate is not significantly greater than its interest in limiting a similar contribution by any member of the general public. [Crux of the matter]
- Part IV (573)
- ... Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment ... the recovery of damages by a public official for defamatory statoanents directed at him except when such statements are shown to have been made either with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.
- This Court has also indicated, in more general terms, that statements by public officials on matters of public concern must be accorded First Amendment protection despite the fact that the statements are directed at their nominal superiors.
- ... it is apparent that the threat of dismissal from public employ- ment is nonetheless a potent means of inhibiting speech.
- In sum, we hold that, in a case such as this; absent proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by him, a teacher's exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment.
- ... the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court must, accordingly, be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
- The core of the rationale is available above