Miami Herald by Alex Daugherty
June 18, 2018
A South Florida man just won a First Amendment victory at the Supreme Court in a case that could protect disgruntled citizens from arrest for voicing their displeasure at elected officials during public meetings.
The nation’s highest court ruled in favor of political gadfly Fane Lozman on Monday in a 8-1 decision, the culmination of more than a decade of work for Lozman after he was dragged out of a Riviera Beach city council meeting and arrested after speaking about the allegedly corrupt dealings of a Palm Beach County commissioner.
Lozman is now 2-0 at the Supreme Court, an accomplishment that his lawyer said is unprecedented for an individual plaintiff in a court that rejects around 7,000 cases every year and hears only 80. He also won a maritime law case related to his floating home in 2013.
The court’s decision on Monday affects citizens who show up to public meetings to vent and question the actions of elected officials. If one official orders the arrest of someone speaking at a public meeting and the rest of the elected body doesn’t object, the person arrested can now have a cause of action against the municipality if he or she can prove animosity.
That means it’s harder for angry elected officials to use their power to arrest people they simply don’t like.
“It’s just been an amazing effort to try to crack the overbreadth of government power towards citizens who want to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Lozman said in an interview on Monday. “This arrest happened in 2006 and the case was filed in February 2008, so we’ve been fighting this case for over 10 years. It’s been a Herculean effort.”