Important Victory for the First Amendment

The Supreme Court released several rulings on Monday, as expected, and the Wisconsin gerrymandering case is getting a lot of the attention. But there was another important case, Lozman v Riviera Beach that was an important victory for the First Amendment and the right to criticize public officials.

The case involved a guy who had sued the city of Riviera Beach, Florida for violating the open meetings laws and for a possibly illegal plan to sell off oceanside property for a private marina. When he got up to speak at a city council meeting and was critical of one of the councilmen, the police handcuffed him and dragged him out, at the request of that councilman. The courts upheld the police action until now, when the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that there was no probable cause for the arrest and that it may have been retaliatory. They ordered the case to be remanded back to the lower court for a full trial with consideration of the retaliation claim.

When I first saw that it was an 8-1 decision, I was absolutely positive that the one dissenting vote would be Justice Alito, who is the most pro-law enforcement justice on the court. I’ve long believed that you should show him a video of a police officer dragging a premature baby out of a neo-natal intensive care unit and shooting them in the head and Alito would agree that there was probable cause and that the officer rightly feared for his life. But he actually agreed that the city council and the police acted overzealously and that the lower courts should consider whether they did so in retaliation for his suing the city and criticizing city officials.

Justice Alito recognizing a limitation on police power? Inconceivable. I’m pretty sure that’s the 7th seal being opened. I’m expecting plagues of locusts and frogs any minute. You can read the full ruling here.

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