Patronage In Employment – Rutan v. Republican Party, 497 U.S. 62 (1990)

Rutan v. Republican Party is a U.S. Supreme Court case. The Court finds that “promotions, transfers, and recalls after layoffs” on the basis of “political affiliation or support” are illegal.

In 1980 Illinois Governor James Thompson issued an executive order that prohibited hiring new state employees for “every agency, bureau, board, or commission” subject to his control. The order emphasized that “no exceptions are permitted” and that permissions for hiring must be obtained through a special agency created by the Governor for this purpose. This action affected nearly 60,000 state positions.

Governor Thompson used the system in order to screen the candidates for the state employee positions and limit the employment to those who in one way or another supported the Republican Party. The agency based its hiring decisions on such facts as, for instance, whether the applicant voted in Republican primaries, whether he or she provided any financial support to the party or its candidates, whether he or she worked or promised to work for the party etc.

The Court rules that those patronage practices “impermissibly encroach on the First Amendment freedoms.” Thus the U.S. Supreme Court concludes that conditioning hiring decisions on “political beliefs and association” is unconstitutional.