The U.S. Supreme Court said today that Russell Bartlett’s First Amendment rights were not violated and that his arrest was not a retaliatory action by Alaska State Troopers at the 2014 Arctic Man.
Arctic Man is the annual spring break snow machine, skiing/snowboarding, and drinking party in at Summit Lake in the Hoodoo Mountains. It is attended by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts and partiers, many of whom are known to be rowdy.
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the 7-2 opinion, which was agreed to in part by most members of the court, although Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas disagreed with parts of the ruling; Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Last year, when the court heard the case, Roberts said the event was a challenge to law enforcement because it is “10,000 mostly drunk people in the middle of nowhere” and few officers are on hand.
Bartlett was arrested by Alaska State Troopers Luis Nieves and Bryce Weight after he at first ignored Sergeant Nieves and refused to talk to him. Nieves had requested that Bartlett stow the keg of beer in his RV, but Bartlett refused to acknowledge the Nieves, because it’s not illegal to have a keg sitting outside. Bartlett knew that Nieves had no cause to suspect him of criminal activity, so he ignored the request.
A little while later, Trooper Weight had been attempting to determine the age of a young person who was consuming alcohol, when Bartlett intervened and told him to stop talking to the young person. Nieves noticed the confrontation was escalating and started to arrest Bartlett, who was slow to comply with police commands. Whether he was drunk has been a point of contention.
After he was arrested, Bartlett said that Nieves said to him, “Bet you wish you would have talked to me now.” That was the evidence in the case concerning retaliation.
The State charges against Bartlett were dropped. But Bartlett sued, saying his first First Amendment rights were violated and that he was arrested in retaliation for refusing to initially speak with Nieves, who had earlier told him to put his alcohol inside of his recreational vehicle.
The District Court ruled in favor of the officers, and the Ninth Circuit Court reversed that ruling, holding that probable cause does not “defeat” a retaliatory arrest claim.
But the court did leave room for further rulings on retaliatory arrests, giving an example of a jaywalker who had been complaining about police conduct prior to being arrested or ticketed. The justices said that if the person could prove other jaywalkers were not being arrested, he or she might have a case regarding retaliatory arrest.
Bartlett had been supported by First Amendment and media organizations, including The ACLU, the National Police Accountability Project, and Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
Punk should be more compliant. Follow the rules so its safe for everyone. So many “what if’s” in this one. How did this make it all the way to the supreme court?
The concern with this precedent is that it may spread to personal writings and journalistic work as well (as we currently see Jullian Assange charged with the Espionage Act for his work with Wikileaks)…
The Supreme Court concluded that: “The presence of probable cause should generally defeat a First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court as she wrote: the majority’s decision “will yield arbitrary results and shield willful misconduct from accountability.”
But she added: “I would not use this thin case to state a rule that will leave press members and others exercising First Amendment rights with little protection against police suppression of their speech.”
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