WASHINGTON — An appeals court Tuesday struck down a ban on speaking fees that Congress imposed on federal workers, saying it was an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia called the total prohibition on outside fees for occasional speeches or magazine articles "unduly overinclusive" when applied to career civil service workers who speak or write about topics unrelated to their jobs.
"It is clear that the ban reaches a lot of compensation that has no nexus to government work that could give rise to the slightest concern," Judge Stephen F. Williams wrote in a 2-1 ruling by the three-judge panel.
He cited examples of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission lawyer who writes about czarist Russian history, a Labor Department lawyer who lectures on Judaism, a mail handler who writes about Quakers and a Navy electronics technician whose avocation is ironclad vessels in the Civil War.
"The topics appear not to be such that the employee could have used information acquired in the course of his government work," the majority said.
Judge David B. Sentelle dissented, saying Congress was correct in determining that "only a uniform, government-wide ban will prevent federal employees from attempting to supplement their salaries by exploiting loopholes in ethics laws."
The ban took effect in January, 1991, after Congress voted itself a pay raise of $27,000 a year in exchange for lawmakers giving up honorariums for themselves.