When Edward Lane testified about corruption at a community college program he headed in Alabama, he was fired.
The Supreme Court on Monday considered whether the First Amendment protects Lane and millions of other public employees from job retaliation when they offer testimony about government misconduct in court.
The high court has previously ruled that the constitutional right to free speech protects public workers only when they speak out as citizens, not when they act in their official roles.
Most justices appeared to side with Lane's view that court testimony revealing official misconduct should be constitutionally protected even if it covers facts a government employee learned at work.
But the justices struggled over whether that protection should automatically cover all public workers, even police officials or criminal investigators whose job duties require them to testify in court about specific cases.