WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided federal appeals court has ruled that government employees involved in sensitive but noncritical national security work aren't entitled to a key civil service protection available to other government workers.
The 7-3 ruling Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said the Merit Systems Protection Board can't review dismissals and demotions of government employees who hold sensitive national security positions that aren't deemed critical — even if their jobs don't require access to classified information.
Critics said the decision would significantly erode civil service protections for federal workers.
In a case involving Defense Department employees, the merit systems board said a 1988 Supreme Court ruling limiting board review of national security cases applied only if classified information was involved. But the appeals court ruled that the Supreme Court decision was broader.
"Its principles instead require that courts refrain from second-guessing DOD national security determinations concerning eligibility of an individual to occupy a sensitive position, which may not necessarily involve access to classified information," wrote Judge Evan Wallach.
"Courts have long recognized that sensitive but unclassified material can be vital to national security," he wrote.
Wallach added that it was "naive" to say that employees without direct access to classified information can't affect national security.