By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether two U.S. Secret Service agents can be sued for allegedly treating protesters gathered in support of former President George W. Bush more favorably than protesters critical of him.
Agents Tim Wood and Rob Savage, backed by the administration of President Barack Obama, appealed a lower court ruling that allowed the lawsuit against them to move forward.
The case concerns an incident that took place on October 14, 2004, when Bush, then president, was staying at the Jacksonville Inn in Jacksonville, Oregon.
When the president decided to eat on an outdoor patio, the Secret Service agents moved anti-Bush protesters who had gathered outside the inn. After the move, the anti-Bush protesters were further from the president than some pro-Bush demonstrators who also gathered near the inn.
Seven of the anti-Bush protesters filed a lawsuit in 2009 claiming that the agents violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's ban on viewpoint discrimination by treating the two groups differently and effectively suppressing their free speech rights.
A federal judge in Oregon refused to dismiss the case in an October 29 decision that was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2012.
On behalf of the Obama administration, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to show that the agents had intent to discriminate.
Oral arguments and a decision are expected by the end of June.
The case is Wood v. Moss, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-115.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Vicki Allen)