The Law: Hatcheting Hatch

Civil servants are supposed to be nonpolitical toilers in the vineyards of government. To help assure their immunity from temptation—and from the pressures of officials seeking to use them in re-election campaigns—the Hatch Act of 1939 forbade most federal employees from taking "any active part in political management or in political campaigns." "Little Hatch acts" followed in some states and municipalities, covering the local firemen, policemen, clerks and dogcatchers.

All in all, the rules seemed to provide a thoroughly estimable state of bureaucratic neutrality—except to a growing number of civil servants who...

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