The Supreme Court unanimously held Tuesday that Secret Service officials could not be sued by protesters who alleged a First Amendment violation for being moved away from then-President George W. Bush while Bush supporters were allowed to remain.
Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed disappointment over the Court's decision. While the ACLU recognizes the obvious need for security surrounding the president, he said "that does not include the right to shield the President from criticism . . . . In our view, the jury should have been allowed to decide whether this case was actually about security or censorship."
Josh Gerstein, writing for Politico, thinks the case will not have much of an impact in future cases involving protesters and the First Amendment because this case so was fact specific.
Here, the Bush supporters were closer to Bush but were blocked by a building and therefore not within "weapons range" of the president. The protesters, on the other hand, had an unblocked view of the president, and that is why they were moved farther away, according to the opinion. Also, they were moved only after Bush made a last-minute decision to dine on the outside patio.
"[T]he main takeaway from the court's ruling appears to be that if the Secret Service starts out with a fair plan for dealing with protesters, the courts will not allow lawsuits because unexpected events result in some deviation from the script," Gerstein wrote.