Federal appeals judges Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by "Joe the Plumber" that claimed his rights were violated by a state records search after he voiced public concern over taxes to then-candidate Barack Obama.
The three-judge 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower court's dismissal of the lawsuit. Samuel J. Wurzelbacher of the Toledo area became nationally known as "Joe" during the 2008 presidential campaign after the much-quoted discussion about taxes with Obama.
He claims his First Amendment and privacy rights were violated by three Ohio Job and Family Services officials who were Obama supporters and who searched databases for information about him soon after the discussion. The department's director and another official resigned and the third official was ousted in the aftermath of the searches.
The judges found Wurzelbacher wasn't harmed and there was no interference with his free speech by the "fruitless database searches" conducted.
"Our conclusion is supported by the fact that Wurzelbacher was not deterred or chilled in the exercise of his First Amendment rights as a result of defendants' wrongful conduct," wrote Judge Richard A. Griffin, a George W. Bush appointee. The court said Wurzelbacher failed to show "a sufficient adverse action."
Wurzelbacher said the ruling means that private citizens can be violated by a powerful government and that the decision may deter others from speaking out against those in charge.
"The irony of this court ruling is that now any citizen who stands up and challenges candidates and elected officials is subject to intimidation by the same government that is supposed to protect our individual rights," he said in a statement.
Wurzelbacher won the House 9th District Republican nomination this year and will face Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in the November election.
Judicial Watch Inc., a Washington-based conservative organization, argued Wurzelbacher's case. Its president, Tom Fitton, said a possible appeal of the ruling would be evaluated, saying it upholds a "frightening notion" of government officials rifling through private citizens' files for political purposes.
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