Supreme Court Denies Suit Against Secret Service Agents

The Washington Post (6/5, Barnes) reports, “The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that Secret Service agents are shielded from a lawsuit brought by a man who said his free speech rights were violated when he was arrested after confronting then-Vice President Dick Cheney.” While the government had sought “broad protection for Secret Service agents who are protecting the nation’s leaders, the court ruled only” that when Steven Howards was arrested “it was not clearly established that an arrest supported by probable cause could violate the First Amendment.” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that because officials only lose their immunity from civil lawsuits when they understand they’re violating clearly established rights, the agents retained their immunity.

The New York Times (6/5, A12, Liptak, Subscription Publication) reports, “The court did not decide whether the First Amendment in fact allows retaliatory arrests.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, “did not adopt the majority’s reasoning.” She wrote that “suits against ‘ordinary law enforcement officials’ over retaliatory arrests should not be barred,” but that “Secret Service agents are different.”

Reprinted from AAJ News Brief for June 5, 2012.  From the desk of John R. Badal, president of the Liever, Hyman & Potter personal injury law firm, Reading, PA serving Berks County and Schuylkill County for more than 50 years.

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