On may 28, the supreme Court made it more difficult for people who say they were arrested for exercising their free speech rights to bring lawsuit against the officers who arrested them. This could include behaviors like throwing insults or refusing to talk to officers, or protesting and filming the police.
The ruling, centered on a case where an Alaska man sued a police officer for what he claimed was a retaliatory arrest was founded on concerns that police at certain event ” like an unruly protest” could be exposed to “overwhelming litigation risk” according to the chief justice John Robert. ” any inartful turn of phrases or perceived slight during a legitimate arrest could land an officer in years of litigation ” he added.
But the decision did try to create a carve out for thinly veiled arrest for either ludicrously common or little known infractions.
“For example, at many intersections, jay walking is endemic but rarely results in arrest,” Robert wrote ” if an individual who has been vocally complaining about police conduct is arrested for jay walking at such an intersection, it would seem insufficient protective of first Amendment right to dismiss the individual’s retaliatory arrest claim on the ground that there was undouted probable cause for the arrest. “
Even with the carve-out, some first Amendment advocates are calling the decision a blow to free speech rights especially in the face of expanding state authority. The decision is likely to have a disproportionate impact on two groups most lively to check government officials that have exceeded the bound of their power prostesters and the press.
The high Court’s decision is “disappointingly imposes additional hardles on people seeking to vindicate their first amendment rights” wrote Esha bhandari, staff attorney with the ACLU speech, Privacy and technology project in a statement sent to the root.
” The ability to bring retaliatory arrest claims is critical for the public to hold police accountable and ensure that police don’t selectively enforce the laws against the people they disagree with including those who criticize them” bhandari continued “this is a particularly necessary protection for protestor who are often arrested under vague laws that may not be applied equally.”