Supreme Court denies appeal of Black Lives Matter leader in officer injury case

 April 16, 2024

According to Fox News, the U.S. Supreme Court has opted not to hear an appeal from Black Lives Matter organizer Deray Mckesson, leaving his liability for a violent protest incident upheld.

The high court's decision sustains a lower court ruling that holds Mckesson accountable for a police officer's injuries during a protest he organized.

In 2016, during a demonstration in Baton Rouge organized by Deray Mckesson, a civil rights activist, a police officer sustained severe injuries. The officer, referred to only as "John Doe," was struck by a "rock-like" object, resulting in knocked-out teeth and a brain injury.

This incident led to a lawsuit against Mckesson, with allegations suggesting that he should have foreseen the potential for violence, citing similar occurrences at past protests.

The Legal Battle Over Protester Responsibility

The legal proceedings began when John Doe's attorneys pointed out a pattern of violence at protests where out-of-state Black Lives Matter activists were involved. They claimed that Mckesson had no reason to expect anything but violence at the Baton Rouge event, leading to inevitable police injuries.

The Fifth Circuit Court last year allowed the lawsuit to proceed, stating that Mckesson had directed activities that created dangerously incendiary conditions and incited violence.

On the other side, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing Mckesson, contended that the accusations infringed upon his First Amendment rights. They argued that the lower court's decision conflicted with established Supreme Court precedents and would dampen protected free speech activities across the nation.

Impact of Supreme Court's Refusal to Review

The Supreme Court's decision to reject the appeal means that the lower court's ruling will stand, impacting how protest organizers might be legally seen in terms of responsibility for the actions of participants.

The lawyers for John Doe wrote about the pattern observed with Black Lives Matter protests leading up to the 2016 Baton Rouge event, stating, "The pattern was set: out-of-state protesters representing BLM fly into a town, gather, block a highway, engage and entice police, loot, damage property, injure bystanders, injure police. By July 9, 2016, when McKesson organized the Baton Rouge protest/riot—he had no reason to expect a different outcome—police will be injured."

In response, ACLU lawyers stated, "the claims against him violate his First Amendment rights, and argued that the lower court’s decision is directly at odds with Supreme Court precedent and will chill classic First-Amendment-protected activity nationwide."

Justice Sotomayor's Expectations for Lower Courts

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, while agreeing with the decision not to review the case, highlighted the importance of a recent Supreme Court decision in Counterman v. Colorado, which pertains to the standards for convicting individuals for making violent threats.

She remarked, "Although the Fifth Circuit did not have the benefit of this Court’s recent decision in Counterman when it issued its opinion, the lower courts now do. I expect them to give full and fair consideration to arguments regarding Counterman’s impact in any future proceedings in this case."

This statement from Justice Sotomayor underscores the evolving legal landscape regarding speech and violence at protests, suggesting that the implications of the Supreme Court’s decisions will continue to shape legal arguments in lower courts.

Concluding Summary of Court Decision's Impact

As this case concludes at the Supreme Court level, its ramifications for protest organizers and their legal liabilities remain profound. The decision upholds a stance that organizers can be held liable for the actions of their protest's participants if those actions result in harm.

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