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SCOTUS Takes Up Former Cop’s Retaliation Case

(CN) - The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to consider whether the First Amendment bars a local government from demoting an employee because of his perceived support of a particular political candidate.

Former police officer Jeffrey Heffernan sued the City of Paterson, former Paterson, New Jersey Mayor Jose Torres and former police Chief James Wittig in August 2006, accusing them of retaliating against him for political reasons.

Heffernan claimed he was demoted to a foot patrol assignment after a police officer who served as Torres's bodyguard saw him pick up a campaign sign for a candidate opposing Torres in a 2006 mayoral race.

The former officer maintained he was merely picking up the sign for his mother, and that he was in no way involved in the campaign of the candidate, former Paterson police Chief Lawrence Spagnola.

After a trial, a jury awarded Heffernan $105,000 in damages, but the city promptly appealed the ruling and had it reversed.

On March 5, 2014, U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty held that Heffernan's First Amendment rights were not violated because he was not engaged in political activity, but was only delivering a sign to his mother.

Heffernan appealed, but on Dec. 11, 2014, the Third Circuit ruled that because the former officer had not come forward with evidence that he actually exercised his First Amendment rights, and because claims of retaliation based on the perceived exercise of those rights are foreclosed by circuit precedent, it had choice but to affirm the lower court's ruling.

In petitioning for Supreme Court review, Heffernan argued the Third Circuit erred in its precedential ruling that his noninvolvement in the Paterson mayoral campaign barred him from claiming his First Amendment rights had been trampled on.

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in taking up the former officer's case.

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