Dick Cheney-Steve Howards case goes before the Supreme Court

steve howards.jpg
Steve Howards.
Last December, we noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear an appeal by Steve Howards, who claimed that his free speech rights had been chilled by Secret Service agents when he approached then-Vice President Dick Cheney in Colorado circa 2006. Yesterday, the case reached the nation's highest court -- and at least one major paper thinks the justices are leaning away from Howards.

As we noted in our earlier post, Secret Service agents Virgil Reichle and Dan Doyle reportedly were keeping an eye on the veep as he shook hands and spoke to people at an outdoor mall in Beaver Creek. Howards was present, too, and one agent reportedly overheard him tell someone via cell phone that he planned to ask the visiting politician "how many kids he's killed today." He then approached Cheney and told him his "policies in Iraq are disgusting," touching his shoulder in the process.

dick cheney.jpg
Dick Cheney.
Afterward, Reichie quizzed Howards, who denied touching Cheney -- but Doyle had seen him do so and placed him under arrest

When agent Reichle questioned him about the incident, Howards said he had not touched Cheney -- but after agent Doyle disagreed based on observing what took place, the agents arrested Howards. He was accused under Colorado state law, but the charges were later dismissed.

Afterward, Howards sued the agents, claiming that they'd infringed on his right to free speech, and while the 10th Circuit Court eventually ruled that the pair had justification to take him into custody, his lawsuit was allowed to go forward. This conclusion worked in Howards's favor, yet it contradicted decisions in other courts, as David Lane, Howards's attorney, explained to us.

"Hypothetically, a guy could make an anti-police speech to a crowd and then throw down a cigarette butt, and they could arrest him for littering when everyone knows the real reason he was being arrested was because they didn't like his speech," Lane said. "And various circuit courts have held that you don't get to go to court on a First Amendment claim if they had probable cause to arrest you for something else -- and they can always come up with something to arrest you for, completely ignoring the fact that the subjective intent of the police officer was to punish you for free speech.

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David Lane.
"In this context, they claim Steve Howards made a false statement to the Secret Service -- that he denied touching Dick Cheney. We disputed that. But the 10th Circuit said that even though they could have arrested him for the false statement, he could go to trial on the First Amendment suit. And that's a split in the circuits. Only two circuits in the country have decided it that way, and four circuits have decided it the other way."

This disagreement helps explain why the Supreme Court took the case. But Lane knew from the jump that victory wouldn't be easy. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from considering the matter, meaning the best outcome, given the court's conservative slant, would likely be a four-four split, which would result in the lawsuit going to trial.

The Washington Post obviously sees this as a long shot, as indicated by its headline about yesterday's hearing: "Supreme Court appears to side with Secret Service agents who protected Cheney." The paper quotes Chief Justice John Roberts as saying he didn't want an agent to hesitate to take action because of a thought that "if I'm wrong, I may be held personally liable in damages for taking some action that some jury somewhere is going to say is based on retaliation rather than my obligation to protect the vice president."

Justice Samuel Alito also seemed unpersuaded based on this question to Lane, who spoke for Howards in court: "Would you acknowledge that the Secret Service faces a different situation from ordinary police officers in conducting their daily activities?"

For more information about the case, including an account of what happened from Howards himself, listen to an NPR preview using the player here.

Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.

More from our Shmuck of the Week archive: "Dick Cheney lawsuit: Are these Secret Service agents shmucks or are they just doing their job?"

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16 comments
Ninja
Ninja

You American are sick you let these puppets run your live feed you crap via media and when some comes up to the sick disgusting leaders to tell them your foreign policy are disgusting you get arrested for practicing free speech ??? way to go USA All empires collapse thats history for you you havent got long to go FREAKS if dick the prick ever came to the UK I would say much worse things then steve Howard's and guess what i would be FREE TO DO SO..  

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

I can't figure this lawyer out.After years of litigation, he won a $1.00 judgement for Glen Morris.How does he think he can win this?The guy steps in from a crowd and sets his hand on Cheney's shoulder.I mean nobody does that.He could have had a tiny Deringer in his hand and shot Cheney in the neck.The hand is quicker than the eye. There is no time to react.That's how Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, with a tiny Deringer.The Deringer is still in production.Siran Siran assassinated Robert Kenedy with a shot to the head with a tiny .22 bullet.Reagan and Brady both got shot by a guy from Evergreen that steps in from a crowd with a pistol.Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a pistol shot from an Israeli angry over the Oslo Accords.I don't know how the Secret Service can be expected to make the right decision what with history, to shoot or grab the guy.He got in to close.He put his hand on Cheney's shoulder after mumbling.He could have had a Derringer.He could have had anything, a syringe loaded with cyanide.

Please Google: RTD Light Rail Train Crash

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

Actually I drank too much coffee. You do understand from your viewpoint, your anger over the Iraq war and how so many people feel that way that the Secret Service has what must be a near impossible job protecting Cheney. I don't know how they protect him venturing out into the public.

Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

Sober up before you post, LRT.

It was Ward Churchill, and he won the case proving that the University of Colorado did in fact deliberately conspire to violate Ward's Constitutional Rights.

Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

War Criminals deserve NO protection.

None.

the_bitter_truth
the_bitter_truth

 Hey Donkey Shlong, How's your Mother's side of the street?

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

Thanks, I was trying to remember his name.This guy was teaching the victims of the World Trade Center were Nazi's, "Little Eichmans"

Ninja
Ninja

War is only profit for the admin pricks comon USA WAKE THE HELL UP get em out before they take your economy down 15+TRILLON Its not going to be sustainable  ????

Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

The U$A has already lost 2 wars in the last decade, they can't afford another.

Iran would be tougher than Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

Do me a favor since you don't like war.Don't let a war between the U.S. and Iran happen.

Ed Gruberman
Ed Gruberman

War Criminals deserve to be brought to justice, no matter who they are, no matter where they are.Something the current administration needs to keep in mind.

After all, one could argue that by not immediately ending the two illegal wars of aggression still taking place in early 2009 and subsequently arresting the Bush Interregnum architects of those wars for violations the War Crimes Act of 1996 resulting in death, the current administration is complicit in the same crimes...

Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

You're wrong again.

The Vice-President receives SS protection for only 6 months after he leaves office.

The President only receives 10 years protection after he leaves office.

War Criminals deserve to be brought to justice, no matter who they are, no matter where they are.

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

The problem here is you are not the Geneva Convention. He is the former Vice President, as such has lifetime protection from the Secret Service.We have moved on and elected new leaders.

.

Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

Many of them were "Little Eichmanns".

The others, to use the U$ Military's terminology were "Collateral Damage".

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