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Supreme Court rules against Jacksonville protesters

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of two Secret Service agents who were accused of violating the civil rights of protesters during a 2004 campaign visit by President George W. Bush.

The high court ruling overturned a 2012 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that agents Tim Wood and Rob Savage did not have immunity when they forced protesters to move two blocks from where the president was eating dinner, while allowing supporters to remain closer.

In the unanimous ruling, the court said "... this case is scarcely one in which the agents acted 'without a valid security reason.'"

The justices also noted that protesters "were within weapons range of his (Bush's) location" when they were required to move.

The case involved some 200 to 300 protesters who on Oct. 14, 2004, gathered around the Jacksonville Inn, where the president and the first lady were planning to spend the night. When the president made a last-minute change and decided to eat dinner at the inn's restaurant, the Secret Service agents ordered local law enforcement to establish a new perimeter around the first couple.

Police were accused of pushing, clubbing and using pepper spray to move the crowd of protesters back. The plaintiffs allege that the Secret Service officers were acting with political motives when they moved the protesters but did not do the same to supporters of the president.

The case was filed on behalf of Michael Moss, who was struck seven times in the back by plastic-coated pepper balls that were fired by police.

Saying that the Secret Service had reason to move the protesters back, the court noted "individual government officials 'cannot be held liable' ... unless they themselves acted (unconstitutionally)."

"We therefore decline to infer from the alleged instances of misconduct on the part of the particular agents an unwritten policy of the Secret Service to suppress disfavored expression ... ."

— Bob Hunter