The Office of Special Counsel told federal workers in November that using the word “resistance” and having an opinion on impeachment of candidates running for political office (which now includes Trump) could violate the Hatch Act. Federal workers were informed that statements related to “resistance to Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms ‘resistance,’ ‘#resist’ and derivatives thereof is political activity.”
The Hatch Act puts a limit on political activities of federal workers to prevent the federal government from having an impact on elections or being too partisan. The act applies to federal employees at all levels and repercussions for violating the Hatch Act could include being fired.
Now, according to CNN, the largest federal employee union, The American Federation of Government Employees and AFGE Local 2578, is suing the federal government. The union says that the new guidance is violating employees’ freedom of speech.
More, guidance states that while on duty or in a federal workplace” employees are “prohibited from wearing, displaying, or distributing” items from Trump‘s campaigns, like “Make America Great Again” or “#MAGA.”
Austin Evers, executive director at the watchdog group American Oversight, is representing AFGE in the suit. Evers said, “There has never been a time where it’s more important for federal employees to speak up when they see wrongdoing, everyday across the administration we see conduct that’s raising the attention of congress and inspectors general.”
He continues, “And the American public relies on civil servants to blow the whistle when they see something wrong.”
Further, the lawsuit brought against the federal government contends that the Office of Special Counsel cannot issue the guidance because the office is outside the scope of the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act was used this summer to punish White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. The Office of Special Counsel said she violated the act by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.”
In a letter to Trump, Special counsel Henry Kerner wrote: “If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations of the law would almost certainly result in her removal from her federal position.” The letter went on to say, “Never has (the office) had to issue multiple reports to the President concerning Hatch Act violations by the same individual.”
Conway was not fired, as the office does not have the power to do so. Based on Conway’s treatment, Evers says the union bringing the lawsuit is worried that the Hatch Act will be applied “only to people that object to the president.”