Rankin v. McPherson

Facts of the Case

Plaintiff Ardith McPherson, a data-entry employee in a county constable’s office, was discharged for remarking to a co-worker, after hearing of an attempt on the President’s life, if they go for him again, I hope they get him. McPherson was not a commissioned peace officer, did not wear a uniform, was not authorized to make arrests or permitted to carry a gun, and was not brought by virtue of her job into contact with the public. Her duties were purely clerical, were limited solely to the civil process function of the constable’s office, and did not involve her in the office’s minimal law enforcement activity. Her statement was made during a private conversation in a room not readily accessible to the public. Defendant Constable Rankin fired McPherson because of the statement. She then brought suit in the federal district court under

Question

Did the Constable’s action infringe upon McPherson’s freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment?

CONCLUSION

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that Rankin’s interest in discharging McPherson was outweighed by her rights under the First Amendment. The Court held that McPherson’s statement, when considered in context, plainly dealt with a matter of public concern. The Court found that there was no evidence that McPherson’s speech interfered with the efficient functioning of the office and that her private comment had not discredited the office. The Court also noted that McPherson did not serve a confidential, policymaking, or public contact role, diminishing the impact of her speech on the agency’s proper functioning.

Case Information

  • Citation: 483 US 378 (1987)
  • Argued: Mar 23, 1987
  • Decided Jun 24, 1987