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Case Basics
Docket No. 
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Argued the cause pro hac vice for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
Facts of the Case 

Ardith McPherson was a clerical employee in the Harris County, Texas constable's office. After hearing on the office radio that there had been an attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, McPherson, who thought she was alone with one other office worker, stated "if they go for him again, I hope they get him." Another co-worker overheard the comment and reported it to the Constable, Walter H. Rankin. Rankin subsequently fired McPherson.


Did the Constable's action infringe upon McPherson's freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment?

Decision: 5 votes for McPherson, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that Rankin's interest in discharging McPherson was outweighed by her rights under the First Amendment. The Court held that McPherson's statement, when considered in context, "plainly dealt with a matter of public concern." The Court found that there was no evidence that McPherson's speech interfered with "the efficient functioning of the office" and that her private comment had not discredited the office. The Court also noted that McPherson did not serve a "confidential, policymaking, or public contact" role, diminishing the impact of her speech on the agency's proper functioning.

Cite this Page
RANKIN v. MCPHERSON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1986/1986_85_2068>.
RANKIN v. MCPHERSON, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1986/1986_85_2068 (last visited August 25, 2015).
"RANKIN v. MCPHERSON," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1986/1986_85_2068.