Wife Swap, SCOTUS Edition

From US Law Week Blog

By Melissa Heelan Stanzione | December 7, 2017

 *

Two Louisiana sheriff’s deputies who fell in love with each other’s wives and whose wives also fell for them are posing a…novel question to the Supreme Court.

But first, the dirty details!

Brandon Coker and Michael Golden realized they loved each other’s wives in 2014 and so, after consulting with their extended families, they swapped wives and families.

After their supervisor learned of their changed living arrangements, he told each to stop living with the other’s spouse until divorce and to cease all contact with them until then.

When Coker and Golden failed to comply, they were fired, after which they sued.

The First Amendment’s right of association protected them against being discharged for their actions, they argued.

The sheriff and chief deputy contended that the deputies’ behavior violated department policy that they conduct themselves at all times in a way that reflects the high standards of the office and that prohibits engaging in immoral or indecent conduct that reflects unfavorably on the office.

The Fifth Circuit upheld the district court’s finding for the sheriff and chief deputy.

“Sexual decisions between consenting adults take on a different color when the adults are law enforcement officers,” the court said.

The arrangement has the potential to create internal dissent within the force and the actions “might be adversely used in litigation concerning the deputies' official conduct,” it said.

Coker and Golden argue in their U.S. Supreme Court petition that under the First Amendment and Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., they’re free to associate with each other’s wives and they can’t be discharged for that.

The Supreme Court said in Pickering said that public employees don’t forfeit all constitutional protections when they take a government job.

The court is scheduled to consider whether to take up their petition Dec. 8.

The case is Coker v. Whittington, No. 17-516.

*The couples in the photo are not involved in the case.

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