UCLA professor Eugene Volokh, along with the Cato Institute and the Institute for Free Speech, filed an amicus brief supporting Salvatore Davi. Davi was removed from his position as a hearing officer for a New York social services agency because, in a private Facebook comment, he questioned whether social welfare programs should be expanded.
Volokh’s amicus brief explains that the First Amendment guarantees strong protection for the off-hours speech of public employees. This is especially true when employees speak on issues of public concern. Additionally, people have a right to hear what knowledgeable public servants like Davi have to say. If agencies punish employees’ private speech, knowledgeable public servants will hesitate to share insights they gain through administering public policy.
Moreover, Davi intended his comments for a small group of people on a private Facebook page. His comments were only later distributed by another person in the discussion group who took offense at them. Volokh argues that “if that can lead to Davi’s firing, then every government employee would be at the mercy of the most easily offended participant in any of their conversations.” Such a rule would “powerfully deter government employees from discussing matters of public concern even in private settings.”
- Read Volokh’s brief