Does the First Amendment Shield a Government Official From Being Censured by His Colleagues?
In 2018, the Board of Trustees of the Houston Community College System (HCC), a nine-member elected body that governs a network of community colleges in the greater Houston, Texas, area, officially censured one of its own members for “inappropriate conduct” and for acting in a fashion “not consistent with the best interests of the College or the Board.” According to that member, the censure vote caused him mental anguish and violated his right to freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the matter this fall.
The case is Houston Community College System v. Wilson. David Buren Wilson was an elected member of the HCC Board of Trustees who strongly objected to some of the board’s decisions, including the vote to fund a campus abroad in Qatar. He made his displeasure known by speaking out in the local media, publishing a website that cataloged his criticisms, orchestrating a robocall campaign against the HCC, hiring a private investigator to investigate his fellow board members, and suing the board itself. After the board censured him, he also sued on free speech grounds.
In April 2020, Wilson prevailed before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which said that “a
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