November 14, 2011

Tenured employee protected from political firing


Tenured employee protected from political firing
Branti v. Finkel, U.S. Supreme Court, 445 U.S. 507


The United States Supreme Court upheld a decision of the District Court, Southern District of New York, which ruled that two public defenders could not be removed from their positions because of their political affiliation. Both served in exempt class positions on a part-time basis. 

It was reported that both were Republicans, one having been appointed by a Republican while the other had been appointed earlier by a Democrat. Rejecting the argument that a necessary confidential relationship existed between the Public Defender and his assistants, and that such a relationship could not be had if the Public Defender was of a different political party than his assistants, the Court stated that the crucial point is whether the hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for effective performance. 

The decision in this case suggests that the Court’s views with respect to a political test for appointment might be the same as its views concerning removal from the public service. By indicating that performance was the significant consideration, the Court may well have limited the selection to the public service on the basis of merit and fitness in all but the rarest of situations.

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