In a 7-2 decision, the high court strengthened the shield for federal employees and said Congress wanted to protect those who step forward to reveal dangerous lapses within agencies.
MacLean won a preliminary ruling from a federal appeals court panel, but the Department of Homeland Security appealed to the Supreme Court. Its lawyers argued the agency had a regulation forbidding disclosures involving “aviation security measures.”
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said this regulation did not have the force of law. He also said MacLean was just the kind of whistle-blower whom Congress meant to shield, noting he had revealed crucial information that prompted the agency to change course.
MacLean, who now works in residual construction management in south Orange County, said Wednesday he was "very honored and grateful that the Supreme Court decided the case. I've always believed with the information that I had, it was not illegal to do what I did. Violating an agency rule or regulation does not trump the federal whistle-blower protections laws."
The opening of Wednesday's court session was disrupted for about a minute when several protesters stood and shouted. They were there apparently to mark the fifth anniversary of the court's Citizens United decision, which lifted limits on political spending by corporations, unions and others.
After a pause, the chief justice broke the tension, joking: "In our second order of business…"