WASHINGTON — A federal judge struck down part of a sweeping ethics law Thursday, saying it unconstitutionally barred federal workers from accepting payment for outside speeches and articles. But he left intact other provisions that restrict honorariums for members of Congress.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson agreed that the section of law aimed at executive branch employees violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
Congress was mainly concerned about stopping its own members from accepting money "in such a fashion that it created an appearance of impropriety and undue influence," the judge said.
Jackson barred enforcement of his ruling pending a possible appeal, which means the ethics provision technically remains in force for executive branch employees.
Gregory O'Duden, attorney for one plaintiff, the National Treasury Employees' Union, said his group would ask an appellate court to allow Jackson's ruling to take effect immediately.
The ethics provision, which took effect in January, 1991, is part of the 1989 Ethics in Government Act that bars members of Congress and government employees from accepting money or anything of value from outside sources for an appearance, speech or article. It was challenged by two unions and the ACLU.
An Office of Government Ethics attorney said he could not immediately comment on whether the ruling would be appealed.