Nov 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects lawsuit against Black Lives Matter activist

Photo of Deray McKesson in a panel discussion

DeRay Mckesson in a panel discussion in 2017. Photo by Steve Jennings via Getty

In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court tossed out a lawsuit filed by a Louisiana police officer against Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson on Monday, sending the case back to state courts and giving Mckesson a temporary win.

Why it matters: A federal district court had previously sided with Mckesson, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the suit to proceed, arguing that a jury could implicate Mckesson because “a violent confrontation with a police officer was a foreseeable effect of negligently directing a protest” onto a highway.

Details: In July 2016, Mckesson organized a protest in front of police headquarters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to rally against police officers’ killing of Alton Sterling, a Black man.

  • An unidentified protester allegedly threw a piece of concrete or rock, which hit the lawsuit’s unnamed officer in the face.
  • Mckesson became the target of the officer’s resulting lawsuit, which alleged that Mckesson was liable for damages because he was the protest’s organizer.

The state of play: Without knowing whether Louisiana law could implicate Mckesson in the given circumstances, the suit should not have been allowed to proceed, the Supreme Court concluded.

  • “[T]he Fifth Circuit should not have ventured into so uncertain an area of tort law — one laden with value judgments and fraught with implications for First Amendment rights — without first seeking guidance on potentially controlling Louisiana law from the Louisiana Supreme Court,” the justices wrote.
  • Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.
  • Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in the case.

What they’re saying: An attorney for the officer claimed the Supreme Court decision signaled that the 5th Circuit “got it right,” according to CNBC, while an attorney at the ACLU representing Mckesson said the decision recognized “important First Amendment issues at stake.”

The bottom line: Black Lives Matter and police brutality are issues that have been on the table throughout the election, and they aren't likely to leave national consciousness anytime soon.

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