(WASHINGTON) — Two Secret Service Agents, who were charged with protecting then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2006, are entitled to qualified immunity from a lawsuit filed against them, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The case stemmed from a suit filed by a Colorado man, Steven Howards, who approached the then-vice president at a public event and took the opportunity to confront Cheney about the administration’s Iraq policy. Howards walked up to Cheney and said that his “policies in Iraq are disgusting,” and then left.
But Secret Service agents saw things differently. They said Howards touched Cheney’s right shoulder with an open hand. The agents engaged Howards for questioning and he initially proved uncooperative and denied having touched the former vice president. The agents arrested Howards and turned him over to local police. Although state charges against Howard were eventually dropped, he sought to sue the agents for monetary damages in their personal capacity.
He alleged that the agents arrested him in retaliation for his exercising his First Amendment rights. The agents claimed they had immunity from such suits and that they had probable cause to arrest Howards partly because of “unsolicited physical contact” with the vice president.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court said, “When Howards was arrested it was not clearly established that an arrest supported by probable cause could give rise to a First Amendment violation.”
The ruling was 8-0; Justice Elena Kagan was recused. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, which was joined by Justice Stephen Breyer.
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