First Amendment

The Supreme Court issued two unanimous opinions favoring state and local government in qualified immunity cases where the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed amicus briefs.

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.” 

Town of Greece v. Galloway could have been one of those cases where the Supreme Court totally changed the law.  But it wasn’t probably because two things “die hard” in the Supreme Court:  precedent and tradition.  Both lead to an inescapable (if 5-4) decision that if legislative prayer will die, it will “die another day.”  

In short, the Supreme Court held that the Town of Greece did not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with a prayer relying on precedent and the long-standing tradition of legislative prayer. 

In Wood v. Moss the Court will decide whether Secret Service agents engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when they moved anti-Bush protesters about one block further from the President than pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the lower court evaluated the viewpoint discrimination claim at too high a level of generality when determining whether the agents should have been granted qualified immunity.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case.  

The Supreme Court hears cases on a few legal issues every term:  preemption and Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases are two of the most obvious.  Qualified immunity cases are another common staple of the Supreme Court’s diet.  In November the Court decided to hear two such cases and issued an opinion in a third case without oral argument.  The State and Local Legal Center will file an amicus brief in both of the newly granted cases. 

The Supreme Court will decide in McCullen v. Coakley whether a Massachusetts statute prohibiting speech within 35-feet of a reproductive health care facility violates the First Amendment.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case.  From the perspective of the Massachusetts legislature, no good deed goes unpunished.  

Massachusetts law, which was modeled around a Colorado statute the Court held constitutional, initially allowed protesters to come within six feet of those entering a clinic within an 18-foot buffer zone around the clinic.  Protesters would crowd six feet from a clinic door making entry into the clinic difficult and intimidating.  So in 2007 Massachusetts adopted a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around clinics.  The First Circuit held that this statute is a constitutional time, place, and manner regulation of speech because numerous communication channels remain available to protesters.

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