Balancing Free Speech and Presidential Security – Wilker Argues at the U.S. Supreme Court on First Amendment Issue

On March 26, 2014, litigator Steven Wilker argued at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the ACLU of Oregon in a political viewpoint discrimination case. The matter of Wood v. Moss poses the question of whether Secret Service agents can be sued for moving peaceful protesters out of sight and sound of the President because of the viewpoint of their speech.  


Wilker and the ACLU of Oregon are representing a group of individuals who were demonstrating peacefully on a public sidewalk in the center of Jacksonville, Oregon, during a 2004 campaign visit by President George W. Bush. Secret Service agents directed local law enforcement to move the peaceful anti-Bush demonstrators out of sight and sound of the President while permitting the President’s supporters to remain undisturbed. The plaintiffs allege that the Secret Service agents violated their First Amendment rights. The government contends that the Secret Service agents are entitled to qualified immunity in performing their duties of protecting the President from potential or actual threats.  


The case was originally filed in federal court in 2006. The case has been to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice regarding the sufficiency of the complaint. Wilker, with help from Paul Conable on the briefs, successfully argued at the Ninth Circuit that plaintiffs had stated sufficient claims for relief and that the Secret Service agents were not, as a matter of law, entitled to qualified immunity. After the Ninth Circuit denied rehearing and rehearing en banc last year, the agents sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court granted certiorari in November. The Court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June. 

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