The DC gag order, issued by Donald Trump last year, just got a major setback. On Thursday, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit suggested that this controversial order could potentially be trimmed down significantly.
The order prohibits federal workers from talking about certain topics in public, including Trump’s policies and decisions. It also bans them from speaking favorably or negatively about the administration in public, or from engaging in political activities.
But this week, the three-judge panel hearing the case sounded ready to narrow the scope of the order. The judges suggested that it might be possible to keep some restrictions in place while significantly loosening others.
Judge Patricia Millet, for instance, suggested the court could affirm the government’s right to keep some policies and decisions off-limits, but carve out an exception for those who wish to discuss policy-related matters in an academic setting.
The judges also seemed open to the idea of allowing civil servants to speak publicly about the budget process, the justice system, and other topics deemed “of public interest.”
The case, National Treasury Employees Union v. Trump, was brought by the union that represents federal workers and government employees. The union has argued that the DC gag order is an unconstitutional restriction of their First Amendment rights.
In response to the court’s questions, the government maintained its position that the order is necessary to preserve the administration’s ability to maintain executive privilege. But the judges seemed unconvinced, countering that the government had not demonstrated the need to impose such a sweeping ban on speech.
While the three-judge panel did not make a final ruling in Thursday’s hearing, its suggestion that the Trump administration could face significant curbs on its power is encouraging. The court is expected to issue a final ruling in the case in the coming weeks.