Blogging And Balancing

As more and more people become bloggers, questions about First Amendment protections are bound arise. A recent case from the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals may add some clarity. Or it may muddy the waters. I’m not sure. The case, Richerson v. Beckon involved a school district employee who was re-assigned after administrators discovered her blog. The blog was critical and demeaning of her co-workers. The employee argued that the demotion violated her First Amendment rights. According to the employee, the comments related to matters of public concern. The First Amendment does indeed comments by public employees that concern matters of public concern. The question, though, is what constitutes “public concern.” The blog presented a mixed bag. On the one hand, it criticized school administrative decisions, and that was a legitimate public concern. But the blog also demeaned her co-workers. And that wasn’t a matter of public concern — even if the target was a government employee. Given that the blog contained protected and unprotected speech, the court applied a balancing test to determine if the demotion was permissible. The appellate court found that the trial court “did not err in concluding that the legitimate administrative interests of the School District outweighed [the employee’s] First Amendment interest in not being transferred because of her speech.” I understand the challenge before the court, but I can also see instances where co-workers consider protected “public concern” speech demeaning. And I’m not sure where the line will be drawn.