Rutan v. Republican Party
497 U.S. 62 (1990)

Facts:

  • The Governor of Illinois issued an executive order proclaiming a hiring freeze for all public agencies subject to his control.
    • New hires required express permission, and basically only Republicans were getting jobs.
  • A group of former and present low-level public employees and employment applicants sued, challenging the Governor’s use of political considerations in hiring, rehiring, transferring, and promoting.

Issue:
Whether promotion, transfer, recall, and hiring decisions involving low-level public employees may be constitutionally based on party affiliation and support.

Holding:
No.

Reasoning:

  • A couple of previous Supreme Court decisions (Elrod and Branti) held that the First Amendment forbids government officials to discharge or threaten to discharge public employees solely for not being supporters of the political party in power, unless party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position involved.
  • This case held that the rule of Elrod and Branti extends to promotion, transfer, recall, and hiring decisions.
    • The reasoning is that conditioning employment on political activity is basically ‘coerced belief,’ violating First Amendment protections.
    • Additionally, the government interests generally asserted in support of patronage fail to justify this burden on First Amendment rights because patronage dismissals are not the least restrictive means for fostering those interests.

(1) ‘A government’s interest in securing effective employees can be met by discharging, demoting, or transferring persons whose work is deficient;’ and
(2) ‘Its interest in securing employees who will loyally implement its policies can be adequately served by choosing or dismissing high-level employees on the basis of their political views.’

Dissent:
‘The new principle that the Court today announces will be enforced by a corps of judges (the Members of this Court included) who overwhelmingly owe their office to its violation.’ – Scalia.

Rule: Employment decisions involving low-level public employees may not be based on party affiliation and support.