The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday for an officer with the Paterson, N.J., Police Department who was demoted because his bosses thought — mistakenly, as it turned out — that he was campaigning for a challenger to the mayor.

The court ruled 6 to 2 that the actions of then-Police Chief James Wittig in disciplining Officer Jeffrey Heffernan violated the officer’s First Amendment rights.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer acknowledged that it was an unusual case because Heffernan was not actually exercising his free-speech rights — Heffernan claims he was picking up a campaign sign for mayoral candidate Lawrence Spagnola on behalf of his bedridden mother.

Lower courts had thrown out Heffernan’s lawsuit against his superiors because he was not actually campaigning for Spagnola.

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