The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Secret Service is immune to a lawsuit charging them with unfairly discriminating against anti-presidential protesters. But this case brings up another interesting question: Can the Secret Service arrest you for protesting the President?
Despite your First Amendment rights, recent cases seem to say yes.
Wood v. Moss
Today's ruling stems from a 2004 trip by then-President George W. Bush to Oregon. When the President changed his plans at the last minute to eat at a local restaurant, the Secret Service moved anti-Bush protesters away from the restaurant, while allowing Bush supporters to remain nearby. The Secret Service claimed moving the protesters was a security measure, but the protesters brought suit, claiming that they were singled out for their views in violation of their First Amendment rights.
In their Tuesday ruling in Wood v. Moss, the High Court found that the Secret Service were justified in moving the protesters for security reasons and were thus immune from suit due to their qualified immunity. According to the court's ruling "No decision of which we are aware, however, would alert Secret Service agents engaged in crowd control that they bear a First Amendment obligation 'to ensure that groups with different viewpoints are at comparable locations at all times.' Nor would the maintenance of equal access make sense in the situation the agents confronted."
This case, in addition to a 2012 case involving a Dick Cheney protester whose suit was thrown out by the Supreme Court, suggest that the Secret Service is generally given wide latitude to enforce their safety precautions. What this means for you: Even when the Secret Service takes action that seems "wrong" by free speech standards, they may still be legally right. Although you have a right to protest the President, the Secret Service may have a limited right to stop you from doing so if they feel that it is in the best interest of the President or Vice President's safety.
As Justice Ginsburg wrote in today's ruling: "The First Amendment, our precedent makes plain, disfavors viewpoint-based discrimination. But safeguarding the President is also of overwhelming importance in our constitutional system."
- Secret Service Agents Get Legal Shield from Supreme Court (Bloomberg)
- Arrested at a Protest? What are Your Rights? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Protest Arrests: When Free Speech Becomes Disorderly Conduct (FIndLaw's Blotter)
- Secret Service Do Anything Illegal in Columbia? (FindLaw's Blotter)