27 May 2014

Law in Plain English: Wood v. Moss

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogWood v. Moss

Argument: Mar 26 2014 (Aud.)

Discussion: Michael Moss and other anti-Bush protesters brought a Bivens action against United States Secret Service agents Tim Wood and Rob Savage, who were assigned to protect President George W. Bush during a 2004 campaign appearance in Oregon. The protestors' complaint alleges that the agents engaged in viewpoint discrimination in violation of their First Amendment rights when the agents moved them (but not another group of pro-Bush demonstrators) to create a security perimeter around the President. The Nith Circuit ruled that the anti-Bush protestors had alleged a plausible First Amendment claim and that Agents Wood and Savage were not entitled to qualified immunity.

Issue: The questions before the Court are (1) whether the court of appeals erred in denying qualified immunity to Secret Service agents protecting the president by evaluating the claim of viewpoint discrimination at a high level of generality and concluding that pro- and anti-Bush demonstrators needed to be positioned an equal distance from the President while he was dining on the outdoor patio and then while he was travelling by motorcade; and (2) whether respondents have adequately pleaded viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment when no factual allegations support their claim of discriminatory motive and there was an obvious security-based rationale for moving the nearby anti-Bush group and not the farther-away pro-Bush group.

Holding: In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the agents were entitled to qualified immunity.
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