A man who was arrested inside the U.S. Supreme Court last year for refusing to remove his jacket is fighting to keep alive his lawsuit in Washington federal district court.
The high court visitor, Fitzgerald Scott, was wearing a jacket painted with the words "Occupy Everywhere." The authorities determined the clothing, with its accompanying message, violated a federal law that restricts certain expressive activity inside the Supreme Court. Scott refused to remove the jacket. He was arrested.
Scott alleges in his suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the authorities had no ground to arrest him. U.S. Justice Department lawyers said in February, in court papers seeking the dismissal of the case, that federal law prohibited the political message on Scott's jacket. Police had ample cause to ask Scott to remove the jacket or leave the building, according to DOJ.
Scott's attorney, Jeffrey Light, a Washington solo practitioner, this week responded to the government's effort to end the case. How to resolve the dispute? Light pointed to a 1971 case in which the high court reversed the conviction of a man who wore a jacket that said "F---k the Draft" inside a courthouse in Los Angeles.
Light called the Supreme Court ruling in Cohen v. California "well-known to any law school graduate." The decision, he said, was "widely celebrated as one of the most important and influential First Amendment cases of the modern era."
The arrest of Scott, Light said in his papers, "rested solely upon speech" and not any other conduct. The phrase "Occupy Everywhere," Light said, "did not involve obscenity or fighting words, and was not intended to, nor did it, incite violence or lawless action."
Prosecutors abandoned the criminal case against Scott, who was booked under a D.C. law—unlawful entry—and not under the federal statute that addresses behavior inside the Supreme Court. DOJ lawyers said the federal charge could have been applied against Scott.
The Justice Department’s legal team, including Jane Lyons, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in court papers that “at a bare minimum, the arresting officer’s belief that probable cause existed was certainly reasonable and in good faith.”
The government gets another chance to file more papers, responding to Light, to convince U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to toss the case. No hearing date or trial is set.
Scott is seeking unspecified compensatory damages, and he wants all records of his arrest expunged.