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Supreme Court Limits CIA Firing Authority

June 15, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court, keeping alive a gay spy’s lawsuit against the CIA, today limited the agency’s authority to fire employees without having to face court review.

By a 6-2 vote, the court said the 1947 law creating the Central Intelligence Agency did not give the CIA director absolute discretion to fire employees whenever he deems it necessary.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, writing for the court, said a CIA employee’s allegations of violated constitutional rights may be reviewed in federal court.

The ruling flatly rejected the Reagan administration’s arguments that the spy agency should have virtually absolute authority to fire employees if their dismissal is deemed ″in the interests of the United States.″

Solicitor General Charles Fried, in arguing for the CIA before the justices last January, said, ″There does come a point where the agency simply must be able, without giving reasons ... and without triggering inquiry within open court″ to fire an employee deemed a security risk.

But Rehnquist said under the administration’s view, ″all agency employment termination decisions, even those based on policies normally repugnant to the Constitution, are given over to the absolute discretion of the director.″

″We do not think (the 1947 law) may be read to exclude review of constitutional claims,″ Rehnquist said.

The court, however, said federal courts may not review non-constitutional claims stemming from CIA dismissals.

A homosexual identified in court documents only by the fictitious name John Doe was fired by then-CIA Director William Casey in 1982. The agency claimed Doe’s homosexuality was a security threat.

Doe had joined the CIA as a clerk-typist in 1973 and worked his way up to a covert job as an electronics technician, in which he was rated an excellent agent.

In January 1982, he voluntarily told an agency security officer that he was gay. Doe was placed on paid leave pending an investigation, and that May he was told he was being fired ″in the interests of the United States.″

Doe told agency officials that his family, neighbors and friends knew he was a homosexual, and that he had never revealed classified information to any unauthorized person.

Doe sued the agency and demanded that he be reinstated. He argued that his constitutional rights were violated when the agency fired him because he is gay, and that the CIA ignored its own firing procedures by denying him a chance to appeal his dismissal.

A federal appeals court ruled that Doe could not be fired just because he is gay, but could be fired if found to be a legitimate security threat.

Today’s decision upheld the appeals court ruling, and sent Doe’s case back to a federal trial judge.

Rehnquist said the judge ″should address (Doe’s) constitutional claims and the propriety of the equitable remedies (reinstatement and back pay) sought.″

Joining Rehnquist were Justices William J. Brennan, Byron R. White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens.

Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia dissented. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who joined the court after the case was accepted for review and argued, did not participate in deciding it.

The case is Webster vs. Doe, 86-1294.

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