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Federal Workers Warned Against Talk of 'Impeachment,' 'the Resistance'

How much does the Hatch Act cover?

Mehdi Taamallah/NurPhoto/Sipa US/NewscomMehdi Taamallah/NurPhoto/Sipa US/NewscomEmployees of the federal government were warned this week that both praising and criticizing the Trump administration while on duty may be considered illegal. Federal workers are specifically barred from "advocating" for or against impeachment and from expressing support for the so-called "resistance" to President Donald Trump.

Such expressions could be considered violations of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that largely prohibits federal workers from engaging in political activity while on the clock or in their official capacity as a government employee. In a memorandum released Tuesday, the Office of Special Counsel (no relation to Robert Mueller's Russia probe) Hatch Act unit explains what kind of speech should be avoided.

There are quite a few nuances. Employees aren't necessarily barred from praising or criticizing a presidential administration's policies. "Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances," the memo reads. But in general, on-duty employees must "avoid making statements directed toward the success or failure of, among others, a candidate for partisan political office."

That's where talk of "impeachment" comes in. The Office of Special Counsel says it's operating under the assumption that federal officials who are impeached and later removed are disqualified from holding office again. As a result, voicing support for impeachment is considered political activity. "Advocating for a candidate to be impeached, and thus potentially disqualified from holding federal office, is clearly directed at the failure of that candidate's campaign for federal office," the memo states. The same goes for employees who speak out against impeachment, though the directive does not apply to speech about people who aren't running for "partisan elected office."

The memo goes on to warn against activity related to such words and phrases as "#resist," "the resistance," and "#resistTrump." Such terms, the memo points out, are clearly associated with efforts to oppose the Trump administration's policies. Since Trump has already announced his reelection bid, the Office of Special Counsel assumes that "the use or display of" those terms "and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise." The agency notes that there's nothing wrong with using those words in a clearly apolitical context.

Some experts have expressed concern that the new directive could infringe on free speech. "This goes beyond past guidance about what partisan political activity is, and is more restrictive of speech of federal employees than past guidance that I've been able to find," Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, tells The New York Times. "I think their legal analysis is wrong in this attempt to outlaw all discussion of impeachment of Trump in the federal workplace. Maybe that is a good idea, maybe that is a bad idea, but I don't think that is what the Hatch Act requires."

Former Office of Special Counsel employee Nick Schwellenbach, who currently serves as director of investigations at the Project on Government Oversight, also thinks the directive "goes too far." He tells The Washington Post that "once you start talking about more-general political views, you're starting to infringe upon people's rights."

But Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute, isn't so sure. "This appears to be simply an effort to draw the distinctions that the Hatch Act requires, and that often involves close calls," Pilon tells Reason. He acknowledges that the directive regarding "resistance" could "involve closer calls." But "the distinction is drawn with reference to periods when President Trump was not and then, later, was a candidate for office."

Ana Galindo-Marrone, who leads the Hatch Act unit, doesn't think this directive is that different from policies already in place. "To me, it's no different from the language we've used before," she tells NPR.

Photo Credit: Mehdi Taamallah/NurPhoto/Sipa US/Newscom

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  • Tony||

    Doesn't John take a government paycheck while spending all day on Reason behaving like Sean Hannity's scrotum cozy?

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    Mary Stack already tried and failed to get him fired over his poasting career, I doubt you'll have any more success.

    Which should tell you everything you need to know about the efficacy of federal government offices.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I have several questions...

  • Tony||

    I would never want to get anyone fired. Capitalism is brutal enough without busybody assholes forcing others into poverty.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Busybody assholes forcing people into gulags, however...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Getting bakers to go bankrupt is some gay pride though!

  • Tony||

    If they don't want to serve gays, they shouldn't open their shops in Palm Springs.

    Iran is nice this time of year.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Luckily, the Constitution says otherwise.

    You will never be able to use American Rule of Law to force people to like other people. It always fails.

  • Tony||

    Shop owners don't have to like their customers. That would be ridiculous. They just can't have armed government thugs remove them for being black (anymore). And they can't eat babies on the premises either. Property rights aren't absolute, and it depends on what you use the property for. Welcome to civilization.

  • CE||

    except it was the state government that enacted the Jim Crow forced discrimination laws. Some businesses wanted to serve everyone, to make more money.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Speaking of Iran. They hate soy boyz too.

  • CE||

    the other federal employees are doing much worse things on their computers, so they don't want to bring it up

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Are scrotum cozys a thing? Cause I just realized I need one of those.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    scrotum cozy?

    Not bad, Tony.

  • damikesc||

    How can there be a Resistance in the government at all if Trump is a fascist and all.

  • JWatts||

    Come on it's the Resistance, they are just like the French underground.

  • damikesc||

    You mean they are, by and large, fictitious?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's not that kind of Resistance. It's more of a hashtag thing you post on twitter during your 3 hour lunch break.

  • CE||

    it's people in a desperate search for meaning in their lives.

    why they want to be "social justice warriors" (instead of busybodies who get pissed off over nothing)

    why they want to fight the extinction level threat of man-made global warming (instead of crying the sky is falling over slightly more pleasant weather)

    why they fancy themselves as "The Resistance" (rather than malcontents who love democracy until they lose)

  • Sigivald||

    "I am resisting the evil Fascist Trump by keeping my cushy government job and undermining him specifically with my Awesome Goodness, and also if you say 'deep state' you're a delusional paranoid!"

    Look, man. If you think he's evil and needs to be opposed from within, that's fine, sure, a person can think that and not be crazy or something.

    But, er, maybe admit that you are literally being the 'deep state' thing he was talking about?

    And that the people who think elections ought to matter, rather than the whim of career apparatchiks*, well, they don't have to like it?

    (* Even if we might agree with them on a specific! I mean, the President is a giant tool ... but democratic institutions means "the winners of elections get to make policy", not "only when it's Progressives you like.")

  • DenverJ||

    This. I get so tired of insisting on the rule of law and hearing "oh you're a Trump supporter"
    No, I support the orderly use of elections to determine representation, and support the winners of said elections being able to pursue their agenda without the elites attempting to use lawfare to overturn a free and fair election.
    Yes, free and fair, and mentioning Russia means you are either purposely attempting to overturn the election or are just an idiot.

  • DesigNate||

    "Yes, free and fair, and mentioning Russia means you are either purposely attempting to overturn the election or are just an idiot."

    Tony hardest hit.

  • Jerryskids||

    Employees of the federal government were warned this week that both praising and criticizing the Trump administration while on duty may be considered illegal.

    Thank God!

    Does this mean Trump has to stop talking non-stop about how he's the greatest President Everything in the history of the universe and Schiff and Blumenthal et al have to shut their fat faces for 5 goddamn minutes about how Trump is the most evil person they've ever seen even though we all know damn well they're lying about having never looked in a mirror?

  • DRM||

    The Hatch Act explicitly exempts the President, Vice-President, and (most) officials who required Senate confirmation.

  • Longtobefree||

    Like all good federal laws, those who need it most are exempted.

  • JesseAz||

    Political appointees who often last just a few years vs long term employees who seemingly can never get fired.... which to fear, which to fear... hmmm.

  • Longtobefree||

    So, maybe this is a bad thing.
    While they are bitching about Trump, and praising each other for their goodness, they are not actively screwing things up. Once they stop talking, they might start doing.

  • Eddy||

    ...or watching porn.

  • JesseAz||

    Or using government databases to dox people they hate.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Government as employer is always a strange animal when it comes to speech rights. It seems necessary to draw a line somewhere; otherwise, government employees could be pretty much un-fireable for protected speech and conduct on the job.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    government employees could be pretty much un-fireable

    That right there is a concept I can't even wrap my head around. The thought of such a state of affairs...

  • Qsl||

    It's essentially the same code of conduct enforced throughout the military (except for maybe the praising bit), but that is essentially contract servitude, military courts, etc. You definitely are signing away your rights by joining.

    But the National Park Service? Department of Agriculture? Seems a pretty novel reading of the Hatch Act.

    Of course to whom do you bring your case to be heard?

    Just bad juju all the way around.

  • JesseAz||

    The president is the leader of the executive. If career individuals are blocking or undermining his constitutional directions, they should be fired. We didn't elect career federal employees.

  • Qsl||

    Well thank you and god bless for your erudite and obviously well considered evaluation of the situation.

    However, even the president follows chain of command and is circumscribed by law. The Hatch Act is specific to campaigning (I mean you did read the act? Otherwise you'd look like a blowhard who was talking out of their ass) and not some paranoid delusions of offense against the crown.

    Of course congress is free to pass such a law, but apparently distinctions such as the different functions of the branches of government is a bit beyond your comprehension.

    You should ask for a refund on your civics course.

  • JesseAz||

    A non sequitur and a strawman mixed together. Congrats! You're fucking stupid. If employees are actively acting against the president... like say posting tweets to their accounts against him on hours.... they probably aren't following through on his directives. The active campaigning, which we have examples from just this year, is a violation of the hatch act. Hatch act has been attributed to as little as a comment for or against a politician on Twitter using work resources.

    So I'm going to repeat myself . You're fucking stupid.

  • JesseAz||

    A non sequitur and a strawman mixed together. Congrats! You're fucking stupid. If employees are actively acting against the president... like say posting tweets to their accounts against him on hours.... they probably aren't following through on his directives. The active campaigning, which we have examples from just this year, is a violation of the hatch act. Hatch act has been attributed to as little as a comment for or against a politician on Twitter using work resources.

    So I'm going to repeat myself . You're fucking stupid.

  • Qsl||

    Gee, you weren't kidding.

    "If employees are actively acting against the president..."

    It's not covered under the Hatch Act, and is more dereliction of duty, which there are separate laws for.

    "they probably aren't following through on his directives "

    Beyond the supposition, same as above.

    "The active campaigning, which we have examples from just this year..."

    All 6- completely justified and DID NOT require further clarification from the Office of Special Counsel.

    Nor were any such concerns raised with Nixon or Clinton or Obama, so what makes Trump so special?

    "You're fucking stupid."

    Absolutely!

    But I at least try to not twist laws to serve my own ends. My integrity remains mostly intact while it is doubtful if you've ever had any in the first place.

    Thus ends your lesson in civics.

  • Uncle Adolf's Gas and Grill||

  • Echospinner||

    Darn

    Thought I was going to get Ella Fitzgerald.

  • SIV||

    This is why we need to return to the patronage system.

  • Rockabilly||

    Oh I with my comrades

    Tony and Rev Arthur Kirkland

    We are marching onto Washington

    With pints of Ben & Jerry's #Resist

    We shall eat them as Trumps

    Is impeached for beating Hillary

    It was Her Turn

    Everyone said so - even Reason

    But the Russian Robots

    Brainwashed the peoples on the facebook to vote for Trumps

    And Now Putin is controlling Trumps

    Which means Putin is president of the USA

    #Resist with pints of Ben & Jerry's !!!

  • Tony||

    Impeached for beating Hillary... because as the good lord knows, while no one is incorruptible, few are as pure as fresh snow as Donald Trump.

  • DesigNate||

    That's your take away, Tony?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Impeached for keeping electricity safe and legal you mean? If the Dems weren't so eager to ban electric power (except in the People's State of China), they'd be cashing them Treasury paychecks and keeping illiterate hillbilly brainwashees the like of Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, Billy James Hargis, Peter Popoff, Ted Haggart and Jimmy Swaggart off the air. Instead they canonize replacements for Hanoi Jane, Amory Lovins, John Gofman, Helen Caldicott, Martin (Greasy) Sheen, Patti Hearst, Leonardo di Caprio and Matt Damon--and get voted down by folks who want electric power safe and legal.

  • Armchair Lawyer||

    Seems reasonable. Especially in light of the recent Washington Post story, where 6 executive branch officials were recently reprimanded for having MAGA in their social accounts.

  • Presskh||

    Federal employees can have MAGA on your social account, as long as you only access it at home with your own personal computer and don't present your political opinions as a government representative. You can also not display pictures of partisan candidates at work during election periods, except official government pictures (the President, head of your agency, etc.). As a 36-year federal employee, I've become accustomed to these restrictions. Although they do seem somewhat weird to those not in government, I think these restrictions are good, on balance, in order to keep partisan politics out of the federal workforce to the extent practical.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Now that the anti-energy Dems have retaken Congress (thanks to faith-based asset-forfeiture prohibitionist christianofascists), it should be no trouble to repeal the Hatch Act root and branch and impeach that monster product of the electoral college, right?

  • Alan@.4||

    While "on duty", employees of private industry or government are supposed to be doing or performing such functions as they were hired to perform. If,while on employers time, they are performing other activities, it strikes me that they, the employees, are out of line.

  • Gene Ralno||

    It's all political. MacDonald's won't allow its employees on the job to badmouth its burgers. The government won't allow criticism of the administration while they're on the job. Naturally, socialists don't like that right now. But when they take over, they'll ban it too.

  • TxJack 112||

    As a state employee, we have same rules. The main issue is guaranteeing that all citizens are treated equally. The issue is not free speech because it is no different than an employers mandating acceptable dress. You are free to express your political opinions outside of work as they should be.

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