(CN) – An Illinois employee who was fired and replaced by a political ally of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration lost his First Amendment lawsuit against state officials in the 7th Circuit.
The Chicago-based federal appeals court ruled that the state officials are immune from William Moss’s lawsuit for damages, even though the firing was politically motivated.
Moss was chief of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Highway Sign Shop until 2004, when he was replaced by an employee chosen by Blagojevich’s administration.
The DOT’s personnel manager, Jacob Miller, recommended Moss’s firing after learning that Moss was running for a position as a Republican precinct committee member for Sangamon County.
Miller allegedly believed that Moss’s candidacy made him “double-exempt” from political patronage restrictions.
Around the same time, a legislative liaison for the Blagojevich administration told Miller’s replacement to find a job for Joe Athey, whom Moss described as a “political loyalist” of the newly elected Democratic governor.
Moss was fired, and Athey got his job.
Moss sued several state officials, claiming his First Amendment and due process rights were violated by the politically motivated firing. Only his First Amendment claim survived the first round of appeals.
In the second round, the 7th Circuit sided with the officials, saying they had relied on a state agency’s earlier finding that Moss’s job was “exempt” from the rule banning politically based firings established in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois.
“Although we find that the decision to fire Moss probably fell afoul of the Rutan principle, we agree with the district court that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for the three-judge panel.
In her ruling, Wood acknowledged that political patronage rules are a “somewhat murky area of the law.”