Supreme Court Shields Secret Service
The Supreme Court in the U.S. ruled today in a case that balanced the freedom of speech against the safety of the country’s government officials. The court’s ruling was that two agents from the Secret Service could not be sued by the man they arrested after he confronted Dick Cheney, the then-vice president.
The justices took a very narrow approach on their unanimous vote saying the agents were immune to being sued. The justices did not rule on whether the First Amendments rights of the man had been violated.
In his suit, Steven Howards claimed that he had been arrested for speaking his opposition to the war in Iraq when he met Cheney during a 2006 visit by the vice president to a mall in Colorado. Five agents from the Secret Service were sued by Howards, two of whom remained involved with the case when it finally reached the country’s highest court.
The latest decision by the court comes at a time when the agency is grappling with fallout from the alleged actions of agents with prostitutes in Colombia.
In the case today, the Secret Service agents contended that they could not be sued for any retaliatory arrest since they had probable cause to stop Howards. The Secret Service agents said there was reason to think Howards broke the law when he lied to them about putting a hold on Cheney.
The court ruled the two had been entitled to qualified immunity, thus insulating them from lawsuits involving damages, unless a clearly established right from the constitution was violated.