Richard Elrod (defendant) was a Democrat elected to be the Sheriff of Cook County in 1970. Elrod’s predecessor in office was a Republican. Elrod had fired or had an intention to soon fire a number of Republican employees in the office (employees) (plaintiffs). The termination of employees of the opposing political party was traditional with this office and was known as patronage. The newly elected official was then able to hire members of the official’s own political party as replacements. The employees sued Elrod, alleging that the terminations violated the First Amendment.