The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case where a man claims Secret Service Agents arrested him because of his anti-war comments made to then Vice-President Dick Cheney in 2006. The Secret Service then charged him with assault for reaching towards Cheney and actually touching him or patting him. The charges were later dropped. That’s when the man, Steven Howards, sued the agents involved in his arrest.
I might well agree with his lawsuit if he hadn’t committed that action which in the situation, clearly is going to be viewed as an assault.
Where I have trouble with this is suing the agents, instead of the Secret Service itself (however meritorious the case may or may not be). Unless the Secret Service asserts that the agents acted outside of the scope of their duties, there should be a shield that separates the agents as individuals from the service (an agency). Sue the agency if you will, but not the individuals.
I would apply the same principle to any law enforcement agency. While it certainly happens many times that police officers act improperly, and not in keeping with the legal authority and policies of their agency, if the agency claims their action is proper, then it is the agency itself that legal action can be taken against. However, if the agency claims the actions are not within their duties, and that the officers acted outside of that scope, then “game on” with legal action against the officer(s), individually. I believe this appropriately targets the decision makers if there was inappropriate actions by these officers. This approach does not void legal remedies.
Secret Service agents are already (supposed to be) immune from having to testify about any overheard communications of the President and Vice-President.
We’ll see what the court eventually decides on this later when they release their decision. Because Justice Kagan has recused, this is an 8-member court. Could then end up in an even split tie? I hope this comes down in favor of the agents.
SCOTUS details and briefs: