Elon Musk Isn't The Only One Getting In Trouble For Firing People Over Tweets
Judges have a pretty cool gig. They rank very highly in job satisfaction, at least in part due to the fact that they get to call a lot of the shots in their day to day lives. There is of course the occasional limit, like not handcuffing small children to prove a point, or hearing cases they have a financial interest in. You know what else has limits? Non-judges using quasi-judicial immunity as a carte blanche excuse to hire and fire whomever they want over spicy tweets. From the ABA Journal:
A federal appeals court has ruled that a Tennessee legal ethics lawyer who was fired for tweeting about Islam can seek damages against his former supervisor.
A lawyer who was under investigation by the board complained that the tweets demonstrated substantial bias against Muslims, which chief disciplinary counsel Sandra Garrett cited in her reasons for [Gerald Dean] Morgan's firing.
In his lawsuit, Morgan argued that he was wrongfully terminated in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech and sought monetary damages. While Garrett argued that she was entitled to "absolute quasi-judicial immunity," the 6th Circuit disagreed.
As tone deaf as Morgan's tweets may have been, the really interesting question of this case is why Garrett thought that she had judicial immunity, quasi or otherwise, when it comes to hiring and firing.
"Though it is true that Garrett is entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity for her official judicial acts, it does not mean that she is entitled to immunity for all official acts," the appeals court said. "After all, quasi-judicial immunity only extends the same immunity a judge would enjoy to nonjudicial officials performing tasks intertwined with the judicial process."
That's a lot. Thankfully, the court went on to clarify with an example for those of us that need a little help parsing through explanations.
The 6th Circuit noted that many other courts have determined that hiring and firing are administrative or executive--and not judicial--tasks.
"Judicial immunity, though absolute and firm, is something to be applied carefully and should not be extended further than its justification warrants," the appeals court said. "Extending judicial immunity in this case would extend its reach to areas previously denied--namely administrative acts like hiring and firing employees."
Lesson learned. On the bright side, it is worth taking some solace in knowing that judicial immunity also has limits for judges. For example, every judge is free to decide -- even to voice -- their feigned disdain for a school and its culture. That doesn't mean they are immune to Joe Patrice dunking on every subsequent thing they do. Life is about balance.
Ethics Lawyer Who Was Fired Over Tweets About Islam Can Pursue Damages, 6th Circuit Says [ABA Journal]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord(TM) in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.