Federal workers say that they are being prevented from speaking out about Donald Trump‘s impeachment, under the claim that doing so would violate the Hatch Act.
As HuffPost reports, the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from participating in some political activities, but a union representing federal employees says that the act is being used to subvert workers’ rights under the First Amendment.
Over the past year, employees working for the federal government have been instructed not to express an opinion — either for or against — the impeachment against the president. But a lawsuit brought by the American Federation of Government Employees argues that the order is based on a misreading of the Hatch Act that is creating a “chilling effect.”
The Hatch Act is meant to prohibit federal employees from engaging in politics during work hours or by using their official capacity. While the guidelines in the act aren’t specific when it comes to impeachment, it does indicate that federal employees can make political donations and encourage people to register to vote, as long as it happens on their own time.
However, an employee would violate the Hatch Act if they encouraged a fellow employee to vote for a candidate during work hours.
Essentially, an employee can’t attempt to promote a candidate or one political party over the other while acting on behalf of the government. Employees are therefore banned from talking about impeachment because it could harm the president’s re-election chances, which could be seen as promoting Trump’s opponent in 2020.
But the AFGE says that the Hatch Act is being misinterpreted in this instance.
Part of the problem appears to be the fact that impeachment is a huge topic and something that can’t be avoided entirely, according to AFGE lawyer Ward Morrow.
Impeachment is “all that’s in the news,” he said. “If you’re going to enforce [the OSC] advisory in the conditions we have now, they’ll be investigating employees for the next 100 years. It’s all anybody is talking about, especially in Washington.”
— Team Trump (Text FIRST to 88022) (@TeamTrump) January 27, 2020
Morrow argued that impeachment is a political process that takes place in the House of Representatives and Senate. Therefore, talking about it would be like talking about any other bill making its way through Congress.
While the government has said that employees can discuss the facts about impeachment, they can’t weigh in or express an opinion. These vague guidelines have essentially created an environment where people are afraid to talk about impeachment at all.
Morrow said they’re pushing for a decision soon, because “if they decide a year from now that it would be okay to talk about impeachment, you can’t go back in time.”
The news comes just days after the National Archives, a government agency tasked with preserving historical documents, altered a photo to remove references to Trump, leading to charges that employees are being directed to protect the current president.