WASHINGTON -- Union officials in Maryland, while relieved that a federal judge threw out a law that bars federal employees from accepting honoraria for speeches and articles, say the legal battle isn't over yet.
The law was "half-baked to begin with -- trying to keep federal workers from getting money for speaking and writing they do outside the job," said John Gage, president of Local 1923 of the American Federation of Government Employees, speaking yesterday at Social Security Administration headquarters near Baltimore. "How that protects world democracy, I don't know."
Mr. Gage and others said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson is not a total victory because the judge barred enforcement of the ruling pending a possible appeal by the Justice Department. That means the ethics provision technically remains in force for the executive branch.
Justice has 60 days to appeal.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs -- AFGE, the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Civil Liberties Union -- are planning to appeal Judge Jackson's stay of his ruling, according to Greg O'Doodin, counsel for NTEU.
Judge Jackson ruled that a law preventing federal employees from earning income for free-lance speaking and writing violates their First Amendment right to free speech.
The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 never was intended to apply to federal workers, Judge Jackson said.
"Congress' main focal point was to ban honoraria for [members of the House of Representatives] in exchange for a pay raise," explained Mr. O'Doodin. "Federal employees were not part of that quid pro quo" because they did not receive a raise, he said.
Russ Davis, a U.S. Census Bureau analyst and vice president of AFGE Local 2782 in adjacent Prince George's County, said the ban on speaking and writing has more sinister implications.
"We're finding a tighter and tighter net around people working for the government," said Mr. Davis, who called the law "just one example of seeming attempts to control information."
Mr. Davis said he and his AFGE local have taken up the case of Beth Osborne Daponte, a Census Bureau employee who recently lost her job after she gave reporters information on the number of Iraqis killed in the Persian Gulf War.
The Census Bureau says her firing was unrelated to the release of the information.