Two Secret Service agents on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to rule that they are immune from a lawsuit filed by a Colorado man who claims they violated his First Amendment rights when he was arrested for confronting then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
Steven Howards was arrested in the resort town of Beaver Creek in 2006 after he touched Cheney on the arm and told him his Iraq War policies were "disgusting." The lawsuit claims that agents Virgil D. "Gus" Reichle Jr. and Dan Doyle arrested him in retaliation for criticizing Cheney.
Howards originally sued several agents, claiming they violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as his right to free speech. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled all the agents were immune on the Fourth Amendment claims, and that all the agents except Reichle and Doyle were immune on the free speech claim.
Sean Gallagher, the agents' attorney, said the appeals court ruling "undermines the ability of Secret Service agents to react quickly and instinctively in the face of potential threats."
"This ruling exposes Secret Service agents to the risk of burdensome litigation and potential personal liability each time they confront a potential threat to the president or vice president," he wrote in a statement.
David Lane, Howards' attorney, said the central issue is why the agents arrested Howards.
"It's our claim that they arrested him for telling the vice president his policies in Iraq were disgusting," Lane said.
"Do we want federal law enforcement out arresting people for their free speech? The answer to that has to be `No.'"
The agents had said that Howards' contact with Cheney constituted assault. A local prosecutor dropped state charges against him, and no federal charges were filed.