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Inc. v. City of Northlake O'Hare Truck Service

Elrod, Branti, Rutan

Three Supreme Court cases defined these rights. In the first, Elrod v. Burns (1976), the Court held that public employees cannot be dismissed on the basis of their party affiliation. The Court found that patronage dismissals violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. While employees' rights of political belief and affiliation are not absolute, the burden is on the government to show that it has a vital interest in making decisions based on patronage. The Court considered the argument that patronage ensured that an elected government's policies were not undercut by a rebellious staff, but thought this problem could be addressed by limiting patronage dismissals to policymaking or confidential positions.

The second case, Branti v. Finkel (1980), addressed the question of "policymaking positions." Branti was brought by two Republican assistant public defenders who were fired by a newly appointed Democratic public defender. This time, the Court held that the label "policymaking" was less important than the nature of the position. The question is whether "party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the office." The Court argued that political allegiance was not a legitimate condition for employment as a public defender (and in fact, would undermine the effective performance of the office), and ruled for the assistant public defenders.

While Elrod and Branti dealt with dismissals, the third case, Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois (1980), dealt with hirings and promotions. The case was brought by Illinois state employees after the newly elected governor turned all hiring and promotions decisions over to his office of personnel. The office based its decisions on employees' contributions to and support of the Republican Party. The Supreme Court found this practice unconstitutional.

After Rutan, it still was not clear whether these protections extended to independent contractors. The Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuit Courts extended the rule to include contractors, based on three arguments: a contractor's situation is analogous to an employee's; the government could easily contract out more jobs to evade existing patronage restrictions; and the suppression of speech was unconstitutional whatever the status of the individual. The Third and Seventh Circuit Courts, on the other hand, did not recognize protection for contractors, reasoning that contractors depend less on government business than did public employees. It was in this context that John Gratzianna brought suit.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentInc. v. City of Northlake O'Hare Truck Service - Significance, The Patronage System, Elrod, Branti, Rutan, The Case In The Lower Courts