Branti v. Finkel
Annotate this Case
445 U.S. 507 (1980)
U.S. Supreme Court
Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980)
Branti v. Finkel
Argued December 4, 1979
Decided March 31, 1980
445 U.S. 507
Respondents, both Republicans, brought suit in Federal District Court to enjoin petitioner, a Democrat, who had recently been appointed Public Defender of Rockland County, N.Y. by the Democrat-dominated county legislature, from discharging respondents from their positions as Assistant Public Defenders. Finding that respondents had been satisfactorily performing their jobs and had been selected for termination solely because they were Republicans, and that an assistant public defender is neither a policymaker nor a confidential employee, the District Court held that petitioner could not terminate respondents' employment consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and granted injunctive relief. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: The First and Fourteenth Amendments protect respondents from discharge solely because of their political beliefs. Pp. 445 U. S. 513-520.
(a) To prevail in this type of action, there is no requirement that dismissed government employees prove that they, or other employees, have been coerced into changing, either actually or ostensibly, their political allegiance. Rather, it was sufficient for respondents here to prove that they were about to be discharged "solely for the reason that they were not affiliated with or sponsored by the Democratic Party." Elrod v. Burns, 427 U. S. 347, 427 U. S. 350. Pp. 445 U. S. 513-517.
(b) The issue is not whether the label "policymaker" or "confidential" fits the particular public office in question, but rather whether the hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the office. Here, it is manifest that the continued employment of an assistant public defender cannot properly be conditioned upon his allegiance to the political party in control of the county government. The primary, if not the only, responsibility of an assistant public defender is to represent individual citizens in controversy with the State. Whatever policymaking occurs in his office must relate to individual clients' needs, and not to any partisan political interests. Similarly, although an assistant is bound to obtain access to confidential information arising out of various attorney-client relationships, that information has no bearing on partisan political concerns. Under these circumstances,
it would undermine, rather than promote, the effective performance of an assistant public defender's office to make his tenure dependent on his allegiance to the dominant political party. Pp. 445 U. S. 517-520.
598 F.2d 609, affirmed.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 445 U. S. 520. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined and in Part I of which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 445 U. S. 521.
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