WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court reinforced free-speech protections for public employees Tuesday, ruling that a Paterson, N.J., police officer can sue after being demoted when city officials learned he carried a campaign sign for the mayor’s political opponent.
The twist in the case was that the officer, Jeffrey Heffernan, said he hadn’t actually supported Larry Spagnola, a former police chief who was running against Paterson Mayor Joey Torres. Instead, he had picked up the sign on behalf of his bedridden mother, who asked him to get a replacement after a Spagnola lawn sign vanished ahead of the 2006 municipal election.
The Supreme Court previously has held that public employees can generally sue when a government agency punishes them for political activity undertaken on their own time. But a federal appeals court in Philadelphia dismissed Mr. Heffernan’s case, reasoning that since he delivered the…
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