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Supreme Court rules Secret Service agents entitled to immunity while protecting president

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that US Secret Service [official website] agents are entitled to qualified immunity despite having treated a group of protesters differently based on their viewpoints. In 2004 while then-president George W. Bush [official profile] was campaigning for re-election, groups of protesters and supporters rallied around the patio-area of the restaurant where the president was dining. At the direction of two Secret Service agents responsible for the president's security, local police moved protesters two blocks away. The Secret Service agents did not require the guests already inside the inn, nor the president's supporters, to relocate. The question presented [PDF] in Wood v. Moss [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] was whether the different treatment of the two groups rose to the level of viewpoint discrimination. The Supreme Court held that the overwhelming importance of protecting the president from assassination created a security exception to what would otherwise be viewpoint discrimination.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case in November and heard arguments [docket] in March. Monday's ruling overturns the decision [PDF] of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website], holding that the viewpoint-driven conduct of the agents could be inferred based on the absence of a legitimate security rationale for the different treatment accorded the two groups of demonstrators, and that the agents were not entitled to qualified immunity because their actions constituted government regulation of speech based on its content.

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