U.S. Workers Fail to Block New Ethics Law
Federal employees lost their bid Friday to block enforcement of a new ethics law while they challenge its ban on outside income for articles and speeches.
The workers’ 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech will not be harmed by leaving the law in effect until a lower court decides its constitutionality, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said.
“We are confident that these appellants will continue to speak, at least over the short term,” the three-member panel said in affirming a federal judge’s denial of a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the law.
Federal employees may place their fees in escrow until their lawsuit is decided, the judges said.
“If they succeed on their constitutional challenges, they can recover any (honorariums) paid into those accounts,” the court said. “If the appellants fail, then they were never entitled to the compensation in the first place.”
The law, which took effect in January, is part of the 1989 Ethics in Government Act. It bars government employees from accepting money or anything of value from outside sources for an appearance, speech or article.
The act eliminated honorariums for House members and sharply curtailed it for senators.
Two public employees unions and the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit in U.S. District Court, contending that the law prohibits workers from using their right to free speech to earn outside income.
The issue may soon be moot, however, because Congress is moving toward passage of legislation that would restore federal employees’ rights to be paid for writings and speeches.
ACLU attorney Leslie Harris said she was disappointed by Friday’s decision and added: “It does affect 1st Amendment rights when you can’t be paid for 1st Amendment activities.”