Gorsuch Warns of Government Abuse in Powerful Dissent
Article from Reason by Jacob Sullum.
Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that when someone sues the police for violating his First Amendment rights by arresting him in retaliation for protected speech, he generally has to show there was no probable cause for the arrest. Six justices agreed with that conclusion, while three dissented, including Neil Gorsuch, whose opinion provides further evidence of how wrong his critics were to portray him as “a narrow-minded elitist who consistently votes in favor of corporations and the powerful.” To the contrary, Gorsuch has proven, both as an appeals court judge and as a justice, that he is unusually sensitive to abuses of power and does not hesitate to stand up for “the little guy.”
This case was brought by Russell Bartlett, who was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest (two vague and highly malleable offenses) during the 2014 Arctic Man winter sports festival in the Hoodoo Mountains near Paxson, Alaska. The circumstances leading to Bartlett’s arrest are a matter of dispute.
A few minutes later, as Trooper Bryce Weight was grilling a teenager about whether he and his friends had been drinking, Bartlett allegedly “approached in an aggressive manner, stood between Weight and the teenager, and yelled with slurred speech that Weight should not speak with the minor.” Weight reported that “Bartlett then stepped very close to him in a combative way, so Weight pushed him back.” Nieves rushed over and immediately arrested Bartlett, and “when Bartlett was slow to comply with his orders, the officers forced him to the ground and threatened to tase him.” Note that even according to the cops, it was Weight who assaulted Bartlett, not the other way around.
Gorsuch disagreed. “History shows that governments sometimes seek to regulate our lives finely, acutely, thoroughly, and exhaustively,” he writes. “In our own time and place, criminal laws have grown so exuberantly and come to cover so much previously innocent conduct that almost anyone can be arrested for something. If the state could use these laws not for their intended purposes but to silence those who voice unpopular ideas, little would be left of our First Amendment liberties, and little would separate us from the tyrannies of the past or the malignant fiefdoms of our own age. The freedom to speak without risking arrest is ‘one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation.'”
Read the entire article at Reason.