When President George W. Bush visited Jacksonville, Oregon in 2004, he decided to have dinner on the patio at the Jacksonville Inn. Two groups gathered to express their feelings towards the president: some protesters stood on the street outside the restaurant, while another group carrying signs in support of the president rallied about a block away. Local law enforcement officers moved the group of protesters away from the president, even further than where the supporters were gathered. Meanwhile, supporters were allowed to remain in their original location.
Arguing that their free speech rights were violated, seven protesters filed suit against the state, county, and local law enforcement officers, as well as the Secret Service agents who directed them to move the protesters. Before even reaching the trial stage, the case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. That’s because the government has argued the case should be dismissed based on the agents’ qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity is a doctrine that protects government employees from liability under certain circumstances. It has been applied in many different cases since it was established in 1983.
We’ll dig into the details of the Jacksonville case, and the recent legal history of qualified immunity.