BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS v. UMBEHR

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
94-1654
Petitioner 
Board of County Commissioners
Respondent 
Umbehr
Advocates
(On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, argued in support of the respondent)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
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Facts of the Case 

Umbehr was an independent trash-hauling contractor for Wabaunsee County, Kansas. He frequently criticized the County's Board of Commissioners (the Board). When the Board voted to terminate his contract, supposedly because the Board grew tired of his constant criticisms, Umbehr filed suit against two of the Board's members. Umbehr alleged that his termination resulted from his criticisms of the Board and, therefore, infringed on his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. On appeal from the District Court's grant of summary judgment to the Board, the Tenth Circuit reversed and the Supreme Court granted Umbehr's petition for certiorari.

Question 

Did the Board's termination of Umbehr's contract, presumably as a result of his criticisms, constitute a violation of his First Amendment freedom of speech?

Conclusion 
Decision: 7 votes for Umbehr, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Yes. In an opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court held that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech shielded Umbehr, as a government employee, from termination due to things he might have said about the Board. Umbehr successfully proved that his criticisms of the Board preceded his termination and were the primary motivating factor behind its retaliatory termination of his contract. The Court added that, in balancing an employee's interest in commenting on public concerns against an employer's interest in promoting efficient performance by its employees, it could not find any countervailing county interest justifying its infringement of Umbehr's freedom of speech.

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BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS v. UMBEHR. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 17 October 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_94_1654>.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS v. UMBEHR, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_94_1654 (last visited October 17, 2014).
"BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS v. UMBEHR," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed October 17, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_94_1654.