RESPONDENT: Michael Moss et al.
LOCATION: East side of 5th Street
DOCKET NO.: 13-115
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
CITATION: 572 US (2014)
GRANTED: Nov 26, 2013
ARGUED: Mar 26, 2014
DECIDED: May 27, 2014
Facts of the case
During the 2004 presidential campaign, President George W. Bush's team scheduled a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Oregon. With the approval of local law enforcement agencies, opponents of President Bush organized a peaceful demonstration to protest his policies. The demonstration took place at a public park before moving to the street near the local inn where the President was staying. Eventually, both opponents and supporters of President Bush gathered on the street of near the entrance to the inn, and each group had equal access to deliver its message to the President at the time of his arrival. Before the President arrived, Secret Service agents ordered local police to push protestors away from the immediate area for security reasons. The agents then ordered that the protesters be driven farther away from the inn onto the east side of 5th street. However, agents failed to give the same directive for supporters who remained stationed on the streets close to the inn. The plaintiffs alleged that the orders to move were unintelligibly given and that police proceeded to use force before confirming that the orders were understood or were being followed.
(1) Is the Secret Service eligible for qualified immunity, which would shield it from liability for civil damages assuming the Service performed its duties reasonably?
(2) Did the protestors sufficiently plead a viewpoint discrimination claim under the First Amendment?
Media for Wood v. MossAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 2014 in Wood v. Moss
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 27, 2014 in Wood v. Moss
Justice Ginsburg has our opinion in 13-115, Wood versus Moss.
This case concerns a charge that two Secret Service agents, in carrying out their responsibility to protect the President, engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint-based discrimination.
The episode in suit occurred on the evening of October 14, 2004.
President George W. Bush campaigning for reelection was scheduled to spend the evening and night at a cottage in Jacksonville, Oregon.
As allowed by local law enforcement officers, two groups of demonstrators assembled on opposite sides of the street on which the President's motorcade was to travel to reach the cottage.
One group, the supporters favored their President, the other, the protesters, opposed him.
Had the motorcade travel -- traveled directly to the cottage as planned, both groups would have been equally visible and audible to the President as he drove by.
On settling that situation, the President made a spur-of-the-moment decision to dine in town before completing the drive to the cottage.
Accommodating the President's sudden decision, the motorcade turned from the planned route and headed toward the outdoor patio dining area of the Jacksonville Inn's restaurant.
Learning that the route changed, the protesters, some 200 to 300 in number, moved down the street to congregate in front of the Inn.
At this location, the protesters were within handgun and explosive reach of the President while he dined.
The President's supporters remained where they stood when the motorcade turned from the planned route at their location, a large two-story building blocked sight of the President and kept them beyond weapons range of the patio where he was seated.
A diagram of Jacksonville's streets appended to the protester's complaint and reproduced in the court's opinion tells the story better than words.
It shows the streets and alleys of concern, the location of the dining patio and of the opposing groups.
After the President was seated at the patio table, the agents directed local police to move the protesters some two blocks away from the Inn beyond sight, sound and weapons reach of the President.
The move placed the protesters a block farther from the Inn, then the supporters whose location, he then have no view of or weapons access to the President.
The protesters sued the agents for damages against the Federal District Court alleging that the agents violated their First Amendment rights by moving them away from the Inn while allowing the supporters to remain in their original location.
The agents moved to dismiss the protester's complaint contending that their conduct did not violate the First Amendment and in any event that they were sheltered from suit by the doctrine of qualified immunity.
That doctrine spares government officials from suit unless the constitutional right asserted against them in context was clearly established.
The District Court denied the motion to dismiss and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
We reversed the Ninth Circuit's judgment, satisfy the qualified immunity shields the agents from the protester's complaint.
Two premises face out -- frame our decision.
First, government officials may not exclude persons engaged in expressive activity from public places solely because the government actor fears or dislikes the message conveyed.
Second, people are not at liberty to speak whenever, however, and wherever they please.
In that regard we have recognized that securing the safety of the President is a vital concern.
Returning to the diagram, one can readily -- readily see that the protesters moved to face the Inn, place the President in harms way while the supporter's position did not expose him to danger.
No President of which -- of which we are aware would have alerted the agents that -- and coping with the President's on-the-spot decision to dine in town that they could move the protesters out of weapons reach -- weapons reach of the President only if they move the supporters, whose location presented no security risk, an equal distance away.
In short, the security perimeter established by the agents to meet an unanticipated situation violated no clearly established First Amendment command.
For these reasons developed comprehensively in our written opinion, we hold the Ninth Circuit erred in denying the agent's plea for qualified immunity.
The Court's decision is unanimous.