Supreme Court Doesn’t Blow It In Whistleblower Appeal

My friend Dennis Hetzel, who heads up the Ohio Newspaper Association sent me this link and suggested it would make a good blog post. He is right.

The Poynter piece discusses a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision which turned out to be a huge victory for Robert MacLean, federal whistle blowers and ultimately the public’s right to know. MacLean is a federal air marshal who lost his job because he leaked information to MSNBC that the Transportation Security Administration had decided to stop providing air marshals for overnight flights from Las Vegas for a period of time in 2003. MacLean attempted to bring his concerns to his superiors, and only when his comments fell on deaf ears did he give the story to MSNBC.

There is a federal statute that protects whistle blowers in this type of situation.  Understandably, though, there is an exception to the law that prohibits a whistle blower from leaking information in violation of a law. 

Unfortunately for MacLean, when the TSA found out he was the leaker, it fired him, claiming his actions violated a security regulation adopted previously by the TSA. The Supreme Court found in MacLean’s favor, finding that a regulation adopted by an agency is not a “law” as envisioned by the whistle blower act. The Court noted that if agencies could adopt regulations allowing the agency to discipline whistle blowers, it would open a loophole in the federal whistle blower law bigger than a 747.

So good news for MacLean and other federal employees who try to do the right thing.  And good news for the public. There are countless instances of great investigative journalism that originated from an employee who is willing to expose wrong doing, negligence or corruption in his work place. While that was not the precise issue before the court, a collateral benefit of its ruling is more robust journalism. And that is a very good thing.