Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507; 100 S. Ct. 1287; 63 L. Ed. 2d 574 (1980)

Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507; 100 S. Ct. 1287; 63 L. Ed. 2d 574 (1980)

Facts—Finkel and Tabakman, two Republican assistant public defenders, were about to be discharged by Branti, the newly appointed county public defender, who was a Democrat. Upon his formal appointment, Branti began issuing termination notices for six of the nine assistants then in office. With one possible exception, the nine who were to be appointed or retained were all Democrats and were selected by Democratic legislators and town chairmen. Finkel and Tabakman brought suit to enjoin Branti, contending they had been selected for discharge solely because of their Republican Party status.

Question—Do the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution protect an assistant public defender who is satisfactorily performing his job from discharge solely because of his political beliefs?


ReasonsJ. Stevens (6–3). “If the First Amendment protects a public employee from discharge based on what he has said, it must also protect him from discharge on what he believes.” Unless the government can demonstrate an overriding interest of vital importance, “requiring that a person’s private beliefs conform to those of the hiring authority, his beliefs cannot be the sole basis depriving him of continued public employment.” Party affiliation may be an acceptable requirement for some types of government employment. “[I]f an employee’s private political beliefs would interfere with the discharge of his public duties, his First Amendment Rights may be required to yield to the State’s vital interest in maintaining governmental effectiveness and efficiency.      [T]he ultimate inquiry is not whether the label ‘policymaker’ or ‘confidential’ fits a particular position; rather, the question is whether the hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved. . . . The primary . . .responsibility of an assistant public defender is to represent individual citizens in the controversy with the state.      

[W]hatever policymaking occurs in the ublic defender’s office must relate to the needs of individual clients and not to any partisan political interests. It would undermine, rather than promote, the effective performance of an assistant public defender’s office to make his tenure dependent on his allegiance to the dominant political party.”

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