The Institute for Free Speech has filed an amicus brief in the case Gonzalez v. Trevino, urging the Supreme Court to overturn a Fifth Circuit ruling that makes it nearly impossible for citizens to hold police accountable for retaliatory arrests aimed at silencing criticism.

Police arrested Sylvia Gonzalez, a 72-year-old grandmother and city councilwoman in Kleberg County, Texas, after she had spearheaded a petition criticizing the city manager’s performance. The charge: tampering with government records, because Gonzalez had briefly and inadvertently included the petition in her binder at a city council meeting before returning it.

Ms. Gonzalez sued the police for a retaliatory arrest stemming from her constitutionally protected speech, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit imposed stringent requirements that prevented her from even receiving a trial for her claims. The Fifth Circuit’s expansive view of a recent Supreme Court opinion, Nieves v. Bartlett (2019), creates special barriers for plaintiffs in virtually any retaliatory arrest case.

In its amicus brief, the Institute for Free Speech argues that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit took Nieves too far in foreclosing retaliation claims where free speech is concerned, ignoring the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted limits on Nieves. Officials should not have unchecked discretion to use minor infractions to punish or chill dissent. The Institute proposes a balanced framework that would hold officials accountable for proven retaliation while avoiding baseless lawsuits.

To read the amicus brief in the case, Gonzalez v. Trevino, click here.  To read our full press release, click here.

U.S. Supreme Court
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