The First Amendment Encyclopedia

The First Amendment also limits the expression of rights in this law that charges Critics. For instance, candidates are restricted from soliciting money or giving speeches on behalf of political candidates, and they are also prohibited from running for office in partisan political campaigns.

Amendment enacted to permit a greater number of federal employees to articulate their political viewpoints

The Office’s Regulations Management Personnel encompass both general prohibitions and specific exceptions to this overall policy. The First Amendment allows employees to openly express their political opinions, particularly on political subjects. The Hatch Act, which Congress amended in 1993, permits most federal employees to actively participate in political campaigns and engage in partisan political management. The amendment also establishes limits on individual contributions and campaign expenditures for political parties. In 1940, Congress amended the act to include local and state employees whose salaries are funded by federal funds.

The Supreme Court has considered challenges to the constitutionality of the Hatch Act twice and has upheld it twice. The Court applied a balancing test between the valid interests of the government in regulating its employees’ free speech and the individual’s interests, presumptively favoring the latter.

Black L. Hugo Justice dissented, arguing that the broader freedoms protected by the Constitution include the rights of federal employees to privately express their political opinions and to vote. He explained that Congress, in upholding the law and enforcing political neutrality among federal personnel, had deferred to its own judgment regarding the extent of political neutrality required. Congress was not unconcerned about its employees and the amount of political neutrality necessary, as it forbids partisan activity by federal personnel and allows for full participation in political decisions at the ballot box. In his dissent, Justice Black deemed partisan activity by federal personnel offensive to efficiency and believed that Congress had left untouched the political participation of its employees.

The Hatch Act, proposed by Senator Carl Hatch (shown here in 1939), underwent numerous revisions to enable greater political expression among federal employees. (Image via Library of Congress, public domain)

The Court, while upholding the constitutionality of the Hatch Act’s prohibition on federal employees’ involvement in specific political activities in this particular case, believed that Congress had established a constitutional equilibrium between the concerns of an individual employee and the government-employer’s interests. In United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers (1973), the Court once again examined the Hatch Act in its amended form.

The 1993 amendments superseded the employees’ federal right to free political activities, explaining that Congress limited these activities to protect the employees’ interests. Furthermore, the Court also explained that this was to avoid the appearance of currying favor with the federal government through political activity and to avoid “political practicing” in the pursuit of justice, which Congress found to be a form of coercion.

Court affirmed law limiting political activities of state workers

In the case of Broadrick v. Oklahoma (1973), the Court upheld a state law that placed restrictions on the political activities of state employees. However, in United States v. National Treasury Employees Union (1995), the Court narrowed the extent of a prohibition on payments given to federal employees for delivering speeches and writing. Bauers v. Cornett (8th Cir. 1989), which involved an appeal by a Missouri Division of Employment Security employee against the director and assistant director, who had questioned the employee’s fundraising efforts for lobbying, further clarifies the changes made to the law that overruled the Supreme Court’s decisions in Broadrick and Letter Carriers.

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