May 28, 2014

Supreme Court gives Secret Service qualified immunity from lawsuits when protecting president

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion Tuesday, ruled that Secret Service agents are entitled to qualified immunity when protecting the president.

A group of protesters had sued over an Oct. 14, 2004, incident where Secret Service agents had ordered police to move them two blocks away when then-President George W. Bush made an impromptu stop at a restaurant while campaigning for reelection in Jacksonville, Ore. A pro-Bush group of a similar size was allowed to remain within sight and hearing of the president's motorcade.

Discriminating on the basis of viewpoint is a violation of the First Amendment.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously found for the protestors in the case of Wood v. Moss, agreeing that the Secret Service acted "with the sole intent to discriminate against [the protestors] because of their viewpoint."

But the high court's opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled the Secret Service has a legitimate interest in keeping hostile parties out of handgun or explosives range of the president. She also pointed out that, while the pro-Bush group was geographically closer to the president, their view of the open-air dining area was obscured by a two-story building.

Quoting an earlier case, Watts v. U.S., Ginsburg concluded that the government has a "valid, even ... overwhelming interest in protecting the safety of its Chief Executive."

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