Agents have the authority to make ‘swift, on-the-spot decisions,’ justices say.
Secret Service agents are entitled to the qualified immunity of government officials and cannot be sued, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday.
The decision, as reported by The New York Times, comes in response to a lawsuit filed against Secret Service agent Virgil Reichle by environmental consultant Steven Howards, whom Reichle arrested in 2006 following Howards’ contentious but nonviolent encounter with then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Howards, who had approached Cheney in a public space in Beaver Creek, Colo., to criticize him for his handling of the war in Iraq, argued the arrest violated his First Amendment rights.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said Secret Service agents are different from “ordinary law enforcement officials” because they are tasked with making “singularly swift, on-the-spot decisions” to guard the safety of the person they’re protecting, according to the Times. NPR had previously reported that Howards, who immediately after the encounter had lied to Secret Service agents about not touching Cheney, wasn’t arrested until 10 minutes after the incident.
The agents had asked the court for broad protection against claims of retaliatory arrest, which was not granted, according to the Associated Press.