In Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968), we stated that a public employee does not relinquish First Amendment rights to comment on matters of public interest by virtue of government employment. We also recognized that the State's interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees "differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general." Id., at 568. The problem, we thought, was arriving "at a balance between the interests of the [employee], 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." Ibid. We return to this problem today and consider whether the First and Fourteenth Amendments prevent the discharge of a state employee for circulating a questionnaire concerning internal office affairs.
The respondent, Sheila Myers, was employed as an Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans for five and a half years. She served at the pleasure of petitioner Harry Connick, the District Attorney for Orleans Parish. During this period Myers competently performed her responsibilities of trying criminal cases.
In the early part of October 1980, Myers was informed that she would be transferred to prosecute cases in a different section of the criminal court. Myers was strongly opposed to the proposed transfer
That night Myers prepared a questionnaire soliciting the views of her fellow staff members concerning office transfer policy, office morale, the need for a grievance committee, the level of confidence in supervisors, and whether employees felt pressured to work in political campaigns.
Myers filed suit under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. V), contending that her employment was wrongfully terminated because she had exercised her constitutionally protected right of free speech. The District Court agreed, ordered Myers reinstated, and awarded backpay, damages, and
Connick appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which affirmed on the basis of the District Court's opinion. 654 F.2d 719 (1981). Connick then sought review in this Court by way of certiorari, which we granted. 455 U.S. 999 (1982).
For at least 15 years, it has been settled that a State cannot condition public employment on a basis that infringes the employee's constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression. Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 605-606 (1967); Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968); Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 597 (1972); Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 515-516 (1980). Our task, as we defined it in Pickering, is to seek "a balance between the interests of the [employee], 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." 391 U. S., at 568. The District Court, and thus the Court of Appeals as well, misapplied our decision in Pickering and consequently, in our view, erred in striking the balance for respondent.
The District Court got off on the wrong foot in this case by initially finding that, "[t]aken as a whole, the issues presented in the questionnaire relate to the effective functioning of the District Attorney's Office and are matters of public importance and concern." 507 F. Supp., at 758. Connick contends at the outset that no balancing of interests is required in this case because Myers' questionnaire concerned only internal office matters and that such speech is not upon a matter of "public concern," as the term was used in Pickering. Although we do not agree that Myers' communication in this case was wholly without First Amendment protection, there is much force to Connick's submission. The repeated emphasis in Pickering on the right of a public employee "as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern," was not accidental. This language, reiterated in all of Pickering's progeny,
For most of this century, the unchallenged dogma was that a public employee had no right to object to conditions placed upon the terms of employment — including those which restricted the exercise of constitutional rights. The classic formulation of this position was that of Justice Holmes, who, when sitting on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, observed: "[A policeman] may have a constitutional
The Court cast new light on the matter in a series of cases arising from the widespread efforts in the 1950's and early 1960's to require public employees, particularly teachers, to swear oaths of loyalty to the State and reveal the groups with which they associated. In Wiemann v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183 (1952), the Court held that a State could not require its employees to establish their loyalty by extracting an oath denying past affiliation with Communists. In Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886 (1961), the Court recognized that the government could not deny employment because of previous membership in a particular party. See also Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 490 (1960); Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961); Cramp v. Board of Public Instruction, 368 U.S. 278 (1961). By the time Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), was decided, it was already "too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed by the denial of or placing of conditions upon a benefit or privilege." Id., at 404. It was therefore no surprise when in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, supra, the Court invalidated New York statutes barring employment on the basis of membership in "subversive" organizations, observing that the theory that public employment which may be denied altogether may be subjected to any conditions, regardless of how unreasonable, had been uniformly rejected. Id., at 605-606.
In all of these cases, the precedents in which Pickering is rooted, the invalidated statutes and actions sought to suppress the rights of public employees to participate in public
Pickering v. Board of Education, supra, followed from this understanding of the First Amendment. In Pickering, the Court held impermissible under the First Amendment the dismissal of a high school teacher for openly criticizing the Board of Education on its allocation of school funds between athletics and education and its methods of informing taxpayers about the need for additional revenue. Pickering's subject was "a matter of legitimate public concern" upon which "free and open debate is vital to informed decision-making by the electorate." 391 U. S. at 571-572.
Our cases following Pickering also involved safeguarding speech on matters of public concern. The controversy in Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593 (1972), arose from the failure to rehire a teacher in the state college system who had testified before committees of the Texas Legislature and had become involved in public disagreement over whether the college should be elevated to 4-year status — a change opposed by the Regents. In Mt. Healthy City Board of Ed. v.
Pickering, its antecedents, and its progeny lead us to conclude that if Myers' questionnaire cannot be fairly characterized as constituting speech on a matter of public concern, it is unnecessary for us to scrutinize the reasons for her discharge.
We do not suggest, however, that Myers' speech, even if not touching upon a matter of public concern, is totally beyond the protection of the First Amendment. "[T]he First Amendment does not protect speech and assembly only to the extent it can be characterized as political. `Great secular causes, with smaller ones, are guarded.' " Mine Workers v. Illinois Bar Assn., 389 U.S. 217, 223 (1967), quoting Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 531 (1945). We in no sense suggest that speech on private matters falls into one of the narrow and well-defined classes of expression which carries so little social value, such as obscenity, that the State can prohibit and punish such expression by all persons in its jurisdiction. See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942); Roth v. United States, supra; New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982). For example, an employee's false criticism of his employer on grounds not of public concern may be cause for his discharge but would be entitled to the same protection in a libel action accorded an identical statement made by a man on the street. We hold only that when a public employee speaks not as a citizen upon matters of public concern, but instead as an employee upon matters only of personal interest, absent the most unusual circumstances, a federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the wisdom of a personnel decision taken by a public agency allegedly in reaction to the employee's behavior. Cf. Bishop v. Wood, supra, at 349-350. Our responsibility is to ensure that citizens are not deprived of fundamental rights by virtue of working for the government; this does not require a grant of immunity for employee grievances not afforded by the First Amendment to those who do not work for the State.
Whether an employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern must be determined by the content, form, and context
One question in Myers' questionnaire, however, does touch upon a matter of public concern. Question 11 inquires if assistant district attorneys "ever feel pressured to work in political campaigns on behalf of office supported candidates." We have recently noted that official pressure upon employees to work for political candidates not of the worker's own choice constitutes a coercion of belief in violation of fundamental constitutional rights. Branti v. Finkel, 445 U. S., at 515-516; Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976). In addition, there is a demonstrated interest in this country that government service should depend upon meritorious performance rather than political service. CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548 (1973); Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75 (1947). Given this history, we believe it apparent that the issue of whether assistant district attorneys are pressured to work in political campaigns is a matter of interest to the community upon which it is essential that public employees be able to speak out freely without fear of retaliatory dismissal.
Because one of the questions in Myers' survey touched upon a matter of public concern and contributed to her discharge, we must determine whether Connick was justified in discharging Myers. Here the District Court again erred in imposing an unduly onerous burden on the State to justify
The Pickering balance requires full consideration of the government's interest in the effective and efficient fulfillment of its responsibilities to the public. One hundred years ago, the Court noted the government's legitimate purpose in "promot[ing]
We agree with the District Court that there is no demonstration here that the questionnaire impeded Myers' ability to perform her responsibilities. The District Court was also correct to recognize that "it is important to the efficient and successful operation of the District Attorney's office for Assistants to maintain close working relationships with their superiors." 507 F. Supp., at 759. Connick's judgment, and apparently also that of his first assistant Dennis Waldron, who characterized Myers' actions as causing a "mini-insurrection," was that Myers' questionnaire was an act of insubordination which interfered with working relationships.
The District Court rejected Connick's position because "[u]nlike a statement of fact which might be deemed critical of one's superiors, [Myers'] questionnaire was not a statement of fact but the presentation and solicitation of ideas and opinions," which are entitled to greater constitutional protection because " `under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea.' " Ibid. This approach, while perhaps relevant in weighing the value of Myers' speech, bears no logical relationship to the issue of whether the questionnaire undermined office relationships. Questions, no less than forcefully stated opinions and facts, carry messages and it requires no unusual insight to conclude that the purpose, if not the likely result, of the questionnaire is to seek to precipitate a vote of no confidence in Connick and his supervisors. Thus, Question 10, which asked whether or not the Assistants had confidence in and relied on the word of five named supervisors, is a statement that carries the clear potential for undermining office relations.
Also relevant is the manner, time, and place in which the questionnaire was distributed. As noted in Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District, 439 U. S., at 415, n. 4: "Private expression . . . may in some situations bring additional
Finally, the context in which the dispute arose is also significant. This is not a case where an employee, out of purely academic interest, circulated a questionnaire so as to obtain useful research. Myers acknowledges that it is no coincidence that the questionnaire followed upon the heels of the transfer notice. When employee speech concerning office policy arises from an employment dispute concerning the very application of that policy to the speaker, additional weight must be given to the supervisor's view that the employee has threatened the authority of the employer to run the office. Although we accept the District Court's factual finding that Myers' reluctance to accede to the transfer order was not a sufficient cause in itself for her dismissal, and thus does not constitute a sufficient defense under Mt. Healthy
Myers' questionnaire touched upon matters of public concern in only a most limited sense; her survey, in our view, is most accurately characterized as an employee grievance concerning internal office policy. The limited First Amendment interest involved here does not require that Connick tolerate action which he reasonably believed would disrupt the office, undermine his authority, and destroy close working relationships. Myers' discharge therefore did not offend the First Amendment. We reiterate, however, the caveat we expressed in Pickering, 391 U. S., at 569: "Because of the enormous variety of fact situations in which critical statements by. . . public employees may be thought by their superiors . . . to furnish grounds for dismissal, we do not deem it either appropriate or feasible to attempt to lay down a general standard against which all such statements may be judged."
Our holding today is grounded in our longstanding recognition that the First Amendment's primary aim is the full protection of speech upon issues of public concern, as well as the practical realities involved in the administration of a government office. Although today the balance is struck for the government, this is no defeat for the First Amendment. For it would indeed be a Pyrrhic victory for the great principles of free expression if the Amendment's safeguarding of a public employee's right, as a citizen, to participate in discussions concerning public affairs were confused with the attempt to constitutionalize the employee grievance that we see presented here. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
APPENDIX TO OPINION OF THE COURT
Questionnaire distributed by respondent on October 7, 1980.
PLAINTIFF'S EXHIBIT 2, App. 191
"PLEASE TAKE THE FEW MINUTES IT WILL REQUIRE TO FILL THIS OUT. YOU CAN FREELY EXPRESS YOUR OPINION WITH ANONYMITY GUARANTEED.
1. How long have you been in the Office? __________________________
2. Were you moved as a result of the recent transfers? ____________
3. Were the transfers as they effected [sic] you discussed with you by any superior prior to the notice of them being posted? __________________________________________________
4. Do you think as a matter of policy, they should have been? __________________________________________________________
5. From your experience, do you feel office procedure regarding transfers has been fair? _______________________________________
6. Do you believe there is a rumor mill active in the office?
7. If so, how do you think it effects [sic] overall working performance of A.D.A. personnel? _______________________________
8. If so, how do you think it effects [sic] office morale? ___
9. Do you generally first learn of office changes and developments through rumor? ________________________________________________
10. Do you have confidence in and would you rely on the word of:
11. Do you ever feel pressured to work in political campaigns on behalf of office supported candidates? ________________
12. Do you feel a grievance committee would be a worthwhile addition to the office structure? ________________________
14. Please feel free to express any comments or feelings you have. ____________________________________________________
THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION IN THIS SURVEY."
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, dissenting.
Sheila Myers was discharged for circulating a questionnaire to her fellow Assistant District Attorneys seeking information about the effect of petitioner's personnel policies on employee morale and the overall work performance of the District Attorney's Office. The Court concludes that her dismissal does not violate the First Amendment, primarily because the questionnaire addresses matters that, in the Court's view, are not of public concern. It is hornbook law, however, that speech about "the manner in which government is operated or should be operated" is an essential part of the communications necessary for self-governance the protection of which was a central purpose of the First Amendment. Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966). Because the questionnaire addressed such matters and its distribution did not adversely affect the operations of the District Attorney's Office or interfere with Myers' working relationship with her fellow employees, I dissent.
The Court correctly reaffirms the long-established principle that the government may not constitutionally compel persons to relinquish their First Amendment rights as a condition of public employment. E. g., Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 605-606 (1967); Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 568 (1968); Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 597 (1972). Pickering held that the First Amendment protects the rights of public employees "as citizens to comment on matters of public interest" in connection with the operation of the government agencies for which they work. 391 U. S., at 568. We recognized, however, that the
The balancing test articulated in Pickering comes into play only when a public employee's speech implicates the government's interests as an employer. When public employees engage in expression unrelated to their employment while away from the workplace, their First Amendment rights are, of course, no different from those of the general public. See id., at 574. Thus, whether a public employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern is relevant to the constitutional inquiry only when the statements at issue — by virtue of their content or the context in which they were made — may have an adverse impact on the government's ability to perform its duties efficiently.
The Court's decision today is flawed in three respects. First, the Court distorts the balancing analysis required under Pickering by suggesting that one factor, the context in which a statement is made, is to be weighed twice — first in
The District Court summarized the contents of respondent's questionnaire as follows:
After reviewing the evidence, the District Court found that "[t]aken as a whole, the issues presented in the questionnaire relate to the effective functioning of the District Attorney's Office and are matters of public importance and concern." Ibid. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the basis of
The standard announced by the Court suggests that the manner and context in which a statement is made must be weighed on both sides of the Pickering balance. It is beyond dispute that how and where a public employee expresses his views are relevant in the second half of the Pickering inquiry — determining whether the employee's speech adversely affects the government's interests as an employer. The Court explicitly acknowledged this in Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District, 439 U.S. 410 (1979), where we stated that when a public employee speaks privately to a supervisor, "the employing agency's institutional efficiency may be threatened not only by the content of the. . . message but also by the manner, time, and place in which it is delivered." Id., at 415, n. 4. But the fact that a public employee has chosen to express his views in private has nothing whatsoever to do with the first half of the Pickering calculus — whether those views relate to a matter of public concern. This conclusion is implicit in Givhan's holding that the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment is not "lost to the public employee who arranges to communicate privately with his employer rather than to spread his views before the public." 439 U. S., at 415-416.
The Court seeks to distinguish Givhan on the ground that speech protesting racial discrimination is "inherently of public concern." Ante, at 148, n. 8. In so doing, it suggests that there are two classes of speech of public concern: statements "of public import" because of their content, form, and context,
"[S]peech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government." Garrison v.
We have long recognized that one of the central purposes of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression is to protect the dissemination of information on the basis of which members of our society may make reasoned decisions about the government. Mills v. Alabama, 384 U. S., at 218-219; New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 269-270 (1964). See A. Meiklejohn, Free Speech and Its Relation to Self-Government 22-27 (1948). "No aspect of that constitutional guarantee is more rightly treasured than its protection of the ability of our people through free and open debate to consider and resolve their own destiny." Saxbe v. Washington Post Co., 417 U.S. 843, 862 (1974) (POWELL, J., dissenting).
Unconstrained discussion concerning the manner in which the government performs its duties is an essential element of the public discourse necessary to informed self-government.
In Pickering we held that the First Amendment affords similar protection to critical statements by a public school teacher directed at the Board of Education for whom he worked. 391 U. S., at 574. In so doing, we recognized that "free and open debate" about the operation of public schools "is vital to informed decision-making by the electorate." Id., at 571-572. We also acknowledged the importance of allowing teachers to speak out on school matters.
See also Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 228 (1974) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting) (describing "[t]he importance of Government employees' being assured of their right to freely comment on the conduct of Government, to inform the public of abuses of power and of the misconduct of their superiors . . .").
The Court's adoption of a far narrower conception of what subjects are of public concern seems prompted by its fears that a broader view "would mean that virtually every remark — and certainly every criticism directed at a public official — would plant the seed of a constitutional case." Ante, at 149. Obviously, not every remark directed at a public official by a public employee is protected by the First Amendment.
The Court's decision ignores these precepts. Based on its own narrow conception of which matters are of public concern, the Court implicitly determines that information concerning
Although the Court finds most of Myers' questionnaire unrelated to matters of public interest, it does hold that one question — asking whether Assistants felt pressured to work in political campaigns on behalf of office-supported candidates — addressed a matter of public importance and concern. The Court also recognizes that this determination of public interest must weigh heavily in the balancing of competing interests required by Pickering. Having gone that far, however, the Court misapplies the Pickering test and holds — against our previous authorities — that a public employer's mere apprehension that speech will be disruptive justifies suppression of that speech when all the objective evidence suggests that those fears are essentially unfounded.
Pickering recognized the difficulty of articulating "a general standard against which all . . . statements may be judged," 391 U. S., at 569; it did, however, identify a number of factors that may affect the balance in particular cases. Those relevant here are whether the statements are directed to persons with whom the speaker "would normally be in contact in the course of his daily work"; whether they had an adverse effect on "discipline by immediate superiors or harmony among coworkers"; whether the employment relationship in question is "the kind . . . for which it can persuasively
The District Court weighed all of the relevant factors identified by our cases. It found that petitioner failed to establish that Myers violated either a duty of confidentiality or an office policy. 507 F. Supp., at 758-759. Noting that most of the copies of the questionnaire were distributed during lunch, it rejected the contention that the distribution of the questionnaire impeded Myers' performance of her duties, and it concluded that "Connick has not shown any evidence to indicate that the plaintiff's work performance was adversely affected by her expression." Id., at 754-755, 759 (emphasis supplied).
The Court accepts all of these findings. See ante, at 151. It concludes, however, that the District Court failed to give adequate weight to the context in which the questionnaire was distributed and to the need to maintain close working relationships in the District Attorney's Office. In particular, the Court suggests the District Court failed to give sufficient weight to the disruptive potential of Question 10, which asked whether the Assistants had confidence in the word of five named supervisors. Ante, at 152. The District Court, however, explicitly recognized that this was petitioner's "most forceful argument"; but after hearing the testimony of four of the five supervisors named in the question, it found that the question had no adverse effect on Myers' relationship with her superiors. 507 F. Supp., at 759.
Such extreme deference to the employer's judgment is not appropriate when public employees voice critical views concerning the operations of the agency for which they work. Although an employer's determination that an employee's statements have undermined essential working relationships must be carefully weighed in the Pickering balance, we must bear in mind that "the threat of dismissal from public employment is . . . a potent means of inhibiting speech." Pickering, 391 U. S., at 574. See Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U. S., at 604. If the employer's judgment is to be controlling, public employees will not speak out when what they have to say is critical of their supervisors. In order to protect public employees' First Amendment right to voice critical views on issues of public importance, the courts must make their own appraisal of the effects of the speech in question.
In this regard, our decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), is controlling. Tinker arose in a public school, a context similar to the one in which the present case arose in that the determination of the scope of the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech required consideration of the "special
Because the speech at issue addressed matters of public importance, a similar standard should be applied here. After reviewing the evidence, the District Court found that "it cannot be said that the defendant's interest in promoting the efficiency of the public services performed through his employees was either adversely affected or substantially impeded by plaintiff's distribution of the questionnaire." 507 F. Supp., at 759. Based on these findings the District Court concluded that the circulation of the questionnaire was protected by the First Amendment. The District Court applied the proper legal standard and reached an acceptable accommodation between the competing interests. I would affirm its decision and the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
The Court's decision today inevitably will deter public employees from making critical statements about the manner in which government agencies are operated for fear that doing so will provoke their dismissal. As a result, the public will be deprived of valuable information with which to evaluate the performance of elected officials. Because protecting the dissemination of such information is an essential function of the First Amendment, I dissent.
Because of this obligation, we cannot "avoid making an independent constitutional judgment on the facts of the case." Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 190 (1964) (opinion of BRENNAN, J.). See Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 235 (1963); New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 285 (1964); NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886, 915-916, n. 50 (1982).
In addition, matters affecting the internal operations of the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office often receive extensive coverage in the same newspaper. For example, The Times-Picayune/The States-Item carried a lengthy story reporting that the agency moved to "plush new offices," and describing in detail the "privacy problem" faced by Assistant District Attorneys because the office was unable to obtain modular furniture with which to partition its new space. Jan. 25, 1981, section 8, p. 13, col. 1. It also carried a 16-paragraph story when a committee of the Louisiana State Senate voted to prohibit petitioner from retaining a public relations specialist. July 9, 1982, section 1, p. 14, col. 1.
In light of the public's interest in the operations of the District Attorney's Office in general, and in the dispute between the parties in particular, it is quite possible that, contrary to the Court's view, ante, at 148-149, Myers' comments concerning morale and working conditions in the office would actually have engaged the public's attention had she stated them publicly. Moreover, as a general matter, the media frequently carry news stories reporting that personnel policies in effect at a government agency have resulted in declining employee morale and deteriorating agency performance.
See Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 388 (1962).
"The guarantees for speech and press are not the preserve of political expression or comment upon public affairs, essential as those are to healthy government. One need only pick up any newspaper or magazine to comprehend the vast range of published matter which exposes persons to public view, both private citizens and public officials. . . . `Freedom of discussion, if it would fulfill its historic function in this nation, must embrace all issues about which information is needed or appropriate to enable the members of society to cope with the exigencies of their period.' Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 102. `No suggestion can be found in the Constitution that the freedom there guaranteed for speech and the press bears an inverse ratio to the timeliness and importance of the ideas seeking expression.' Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 269." 385 U. S., at 388.
The quoted passage makes clear that, contrary to the Court's view, ante, at 143, n. 5, the subjects touched upon in respondent's questionnaire fall within the broad conception of "matters of public interest" that defines the scope of the constitutional privilege in invasion of privacy cases. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652D, Comment j (1977):
"The scope of a matter of legitimate concern to the public is not limited to `news,' in the sense of reports of current events or activities. It extends also to the use of names, likenesses or facts in giving information to the public for purposes of education, amusement or enlightenment, when the public may reasonably be expected to have a legitimate interest in what is published."