PATERSON - The United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Paterson police officer who says that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was demoted on the job.
The court ruled 6-2 in favor of Jeffrey Heffernan in what’s being called one of the oddest First Amendment cases in recent history.
Heffernan was recently promoted to detective for the Paterson Police Department in 2006.
"I lived, ate and slept it,” he says. "It's all I ever wanted to do."
It was election season and Heffernan's mother was bed-ridden. She supported the mayor's opponent and asked him to pick her up a campaign sign. Heffernan was off duty at the time, so he agreed to do it.
He says that before he even arrived home he received a call from his superiors demoting him. Heffernan had been demoted to walking duty and would be passed over as sergeant before he retired.
He decided to take legal action against the department.
The lower courts said that because Heffernan was only picking up the signs for his mother and never publicly supported a political candidate, he couldn't use the First Amendment argument in his case.
The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court who ruled last week that Paterson's motive for demoting Heffernan violated his First Amendment right and it didn't matter if he meant to campaign or not.
"The motive of government to suppress those rights is what matters and in this case, this is what happened. They retaliated against him,” says Mark Frost, one of Heffernan’s attorneys.
Ryan Lockman, Heffernan’s other attorney agrees. "We don't want employers to think they can just do what they want without looking at the facts. They have to look at the facts and really think is this allowed or is it not.”
The case will now be decided in the lower courts.