It isn’t every day that a Portland attorney has the opportunity to argue a First Amendment issue at the U.S. Supreme Court. For Steven Wilker, a partner and litigator at Tonkon Torp LLP, that day occurred last week.
Wilker presented arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on an issue of balancing free speech and Presidential security. 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.
Arguing political viewpoint discrimination, the case originally was filed in federal court in 2006 and has been to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice. Wilker’s arguments prevailed at the Ninth Circuit, but the U.S. Department of Justice, representing the Secret Service agents, then sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court agreed to hear the case last November. The Court is expected to rule by the end of June.
Wilker is a member of Tonkon Torp’s Financial Services, Intellectual Property and Information Privacy & Security practice groups. His practice emphasizes financial services, media and technology law, intellectual property and complex commercial litigation, as well as civil rights and constitutional law. Wilker is recognized by The Best Lawyers in America® in First Amendment and Commercial Litigation. He serves on the boards of the ACLU of Oregon and the ACLU Foundation of Oregon, and is a frequent speaker on First Amendment issues.