Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 US

Case Scenario 2: Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 US 563 (1968)

This case was argued and decided between March and June of 1968. The petitioner or the appellant was Marvin Pickering; a school teacher whilst the respondent or the appellee was the school board of Township High School district 205 which is a civic establishment (Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township High School, 1968).

Summary of Facts

Pickering M., who served as a school teacher penned a message to an editor of a community newspaper called Lockport Herald in a complaint concerning a school board’s proposal that had been rejected. In Pickering’s letter, he criticized the board for proposing to escalation school taxes. Pickering protested against the board of education’s proposal that aimed to allocate more funds to athletics than academic endeavors. The school board viewed the letter as damaging to the efficiency of the operational and administrative undertakings of the schools thereby opting to fire Marvin Pickering. Faced with a termination of employment, the school teacher filed a suit against the board of the school in the Circuit Court (Court Case, n.d.). He contended that the letter he wrote was protected by both the First Amendment as well as the Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated.

The court was in agreement with the decision of the board to terminate Pickering’s employment averring that teachers were required to desist from making accusations concerning their employer. The Illinois Supreme court where Pickering made his appeal upheld the judgment of the Will County Court’s decision affirming that the efficient operations of the school had been damaged. Pickering was thus forced to appeal in the US Supreme Court (Court Case, n.d.).

Major Issue of the Case

The major issue in the case is whether the boards of schools and education-sector err or infringe upon the First and Fourteenth Amendments rights of employees when they fire them on airing a matter of public concern (FindLaw’s case and opinions., n.d.). Essentially, the issue is to balance the individual interest of the teachers being a member of the public citizenry when engaging in matters of public concern vis-à-vis the state interests being a public servant.

Rationale Given for the Case

The court determined that teachers serving in public schools are categorized as public employees. This gives them the entitlement to a number of First and Fourteenth Amendment protections. Given the fact that Pickering wrote the letter to a person with whom he had no contact when undertaking his daily pedagogical obligations. There was no supporting averment to the allegation that Pickering’s letter resulted in conflict or controversial occurrences (Court Case, n.d.). Pickering was expressing his concern as any other citizen would.

Holdings from the Judges

The US Supreme Court judges ruled on an 8 to 1 decision in favor of Pickering. The judges contended that termination of public employees’ employment who make public statements concerning issues of public worry devoid of showing that the made statements are knowingly or irresponsibly false infringes upon the protection of the First Amendment. Thus, Pickering’s freedom of speech had been infringed upon (Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township High School, 1968).

Reaction to the Case

The reversal of Pickering’s employment termination accords school teachers the right to comment on civic matters and policies freely without being inhibited since they are also members of the public. The public life of an individual should not be constraint by the public duty. Although Pickering’s case may be long-dated, there is a need for encouragement of the American workforce to realize the vitality of engaging in public matters (Court Case, n.d.). There is a need to recommit to Pickering’s balance test and the principles which were determined thus make it possible for public servants to evade sanctions when exercising their freedom of speech.