The U.S. Supreme Court tossed an appeals court ruling allowing Black Lives Matter protester and activist DeRay McKesson to be sued by a police officer who was injured by an unknown assailant.
In an unsigned order, the justices wrote that the appeals court should’ve received guidance from a Louisiana state court before allowing the officer’s suit to move forward and sent the case back to a lower court.
The court ruled 7-1 with Clarence Thomas being the only dissent. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not hear the .case. McKesson wasted no time slamming Justice Thomas for his ruling.
Clarence Thomas is just not on the right side of any of these issues.
— deray (@deray) November 2, 2020
The case stems from a 2014 protest after the death of Michael Brown. The officer, known as John Doe in court filings, said he was hit by a piece of concrete or rock allegedly thrown by a protester (Not McKesson) and injured while police sought to clear the highway. The officer, who said he suffered injuries to the head and face, sued McKesson, saying his alleged organization of the protest made him liable for damages.
According to CNBC, a federal district court rejected the officer’s claim, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, allowing it to proceed because “a violent confrontation with a police officer was a foreseeable effect of negligently directing a protest” onto the road.
The Supreme Court ruling does leave the door open for the police officer to ultimately win the case. The cop also sued Black Lives Matter (BLM), but that suit was thrown out because BLM is a social movement and not an entity that can be sued.
“The Louisiana Supreme Court, to be sure, may announce the same duty as the Fifth Circuit,” the justices wrote, also adding that the 5th Circuit should not have “ventured into so uncertain an area” of law that was “laden with value judgments and fraught with implications for First Amendment rights” without first obtaining guidance on Louisiana law from the Louisiana Supreme Court.
After Brown’s death, McKesson became well known as an activist in Baltimore, leading protests and doing numerous interviews with his signature Blue Patagonia vest. McKesson even ran for mayor in Baltimore but finished sixth in the Democratic primary.
USA Today reported the American Civil Liberties Union defended McKesson after the court of appeals reversed the district court ruling. Vera Eidelman, an ACLU attorney representing McKesson, told CNBC they are happy with the decision.
“We are gratified the Supreme Court has recognized there are important First Amendment issues at stake and has asked the state courts to review whether their law even permits such a suit,” Eidelman said. “We look forward to a ruling reaffirming that the fundamental right to protest cannot be attacked in this way.”
Donna Grodner, the lawyer representing the officer, said the Supreme Court’s decision signified that the 5th Circuit “got it right” and suggested the ruling was a loss on only technical grounds.