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Monday, February 10, 2020
Statement from the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression
Statement from the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School on the Retaliation Against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
This statement does not express the institutional views of Yale University or Yale Law School.
The First Amendment has sustained heavy blows in recent days.
Last Friday, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was relieved of his duties at the National Security Council for nothing more or less than telling the truth in sworn testimony, provided under subpoena, to the House Intelligence Committee. The Trump Administration has made no effort to portray this decision, or a similar one with respect to his brother, Lt. Col. Yevge Vindman, as anything other than retaliation for Col. Vindman’s testimony.
This retaliation sends a chill through the ranks of government employees and seems plainly intended to do so. It is an affront to the First Amendment.
There can be no doubt that Col. Vindman’s speech lies at the heart of First Amendment protection. It was speech that addressed a matter of urgent public concern. Indeed, speech by government employees on subjects related to their jobs hold distinct value because these employees have access to information of clear public interest.
Just a few years ago, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed this important point in Lane v. Franks, 573 U.S. 228 (2014), underscoring that public employees do not renounce their citizenship when they accept a government position, and describing a public employee’s sworn testimony on a matter of public concern as “a quintessential example” of First Amendment-protected speech. In the words of that case, any obligation Col. Vindman had to the White House as an employee did not override the First Amendment’s protection of his “obligation, as a citizen, to speak the truth.”
Friday’s actions are a cause for great concern. This is not just because they run roughshod over the protection extended to Col. Vindman by the First Amendment, but also because of their broader implications for the ability of the American public to know what transpires in the executive branch. Simply stated, Col. Vindman’s firing strikes at the heart of the critical First Amendment interest in protecting government transparency, accountability, and the exposure of misconduct at the highest levels.
The retaliation against Col. Vindman reflects a dangerous impulse to punish speech that is at odds with the personal preferences and interests of the President — an impulse utterly inconsistent with the First Amendment.
The Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School promotes freedom of speech, freedom of the press, access to information and government transparency. The Institute facilitates collaboration between the academy and the bar to enrich both scholarship and practice and to enhance the protection of free expression. The Institute is administered by Yale’s Information Society Project.
For more information, contact:
Floyd Abrams, firstname.lastname@example.org; 212-701-3621
David A. Schulz, email@example.com; 203-436-5827
Francesca Procaccini, firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-436-5828