Summary of the case facts
The Supreme Court heard arguments to rule whether agents of the United States Secret Service, Gus Reichle and Dan Doyle, safeguarding Vice President Richard Cheney for infringing the right to free speech of a protester against the war policies of the Bush government. The two agents were part of the security detail of the Vice President when these overheard Steven Howard stat that he would ask “how many children he’s killed today.” Howards went and accosted Cheney and vigorously voiced his disdain for the war policies in Iraq. When Cheney turned to avoid any more debate with Howards, Howards reached out and touched the Vice President on his right shoulder (Liptak, 2011, p. 1).
After being questioned and then taken into custody by Reichle, Howards was first charged with aggravation under Colorado law. These charges, however, were soon dismissed, and no subsequent Federal charges were filed against Howards. Howards took Reichle and Doyle to court, alleging that the agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights (unlawful search and seizure) as well as his First Amendment rights by making a reprisal against him even in the course of the exercise of his right to free speech. Reichle and Doyle filed a motion for “summary judgment” founded on immunity guarantees.
The motion was denied; the two proceeded to move for an “interlocutory appeal” to the Tenth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. The two moved that they were qualified to immunity guarantees by stating that they had “probable cause” to accost Howards; furthermore, the two averred that they were entitled to “heightened immunity” owing to the fact of being agents of the United States Secret Service. The appellate court affirmed and rejected parts of Howard’s argument. In rejecting, the court ruled that the agents had “objective probable cause” to arrest Howards. Nevertheless, the court affirmed Howards in holding that the existence of probable cause is not an obstacle to any First Amendment “retaliatory claims” and ruled that Howards can commence with his First Amendment action against the agents (IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, 2015, p. 1).
In the questions posed before the Supreme Court, the High Court was asked to resolve the issue of whether the “existence of probable cause” does not pose an obstacle to a First Amendment “retaliatory claim” as held by the Second, Sixth, Eighth, and Eleventh appellate courts. In addition, the question on whether the Tenth Court blundered by withholding “qualified and absolute immunity” to the agents, and whether the denial will gravely interfere with the duty to make split second decisions in order to protect the life of the President and the Vice President (Reichle v Howards, 2010).
In a unanimous 8-0 decision, the High Court affirmed one and rejected the other question posed before it. In the opinion rendered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court reversed the Tenth and remanded the same. In the ruling of the Supreme Court, it stated that agents possess “qualified immunity” against the First Amendment claims of Howards as there is “no right to protection from retaliatory arrest where there is probable cause for that arrest.” The Supreme Court never identified the supposed right, and posited that the precedent of the Tenth for making such a right is at best vague. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice Stephen Breyer joined in the opinion, noting that the agents were safeguarding public officials; in addition, the agents’ conduct in the matter was deemed reasonable, thus should not place them at risk for civil liabilities (IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, 2015, p. 1).
Was the case decided correctly? Why or why not?
All people have their own opinions on matters that government and its agents implement. The matter here is whether the agents went too far in protecting their assigned official. It can be said that if the Court were to place limits on how the agents can contain an offender, then these individuals will go around these restrictions, resulting in an environment where all protest actions will cite the opinion of the Court and practice hooliganism under the guise of freedom of expression and free speech. The Court correctly decided that agents must be given the leeway to protect individuals without themselves violating the law.
IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law (2015) “Reichle v Howards” Retrieved 12 July 2015 from <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2011/2011_11_262
Liptak, A (2011, December 5). Supreme Court to consider the arrest of a Cheney critic. The New York Times United States
Reichle v Howards, 566 U.S. ___ (2012), Retrieved 12 July 2015 from <http://www.supremecourt.gov/qp/11-00262qp.pdf