ARLINGTON, Va.—At the end of April, IJ filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to reverse the Fifth Circuit’s ruling providing qualified immunity to a mayor and a police chief who threw a 72-year-old grandmother in jail, after she criticized a city manager, their ally.
Since then, five groups consisting of public interest organizations, renowned advocates, and acclaimed scholars filed their own briefs asking the Supreme Court to grant review and overturn this grievously wrong decision.
“The outpouring of support has been absolutely remarkable,” said IJ Attorney Anya Bidwell. “This has been such a morale boost for Sylvia Gonzalez, our client, who’s been terribly hurt by this whole experience. In addition, it has shown that we’re absolutely right in our interpretation of the law.”
Sylvia was arrested in 2018 after she petitioned her government to remove the city manager. As it turns out, the city manager had powerful friends determined to ensure that Sylvia and others opposing the powers that be knew their place. To punish Sylvia for speaking out, the mayor and the police chief engineered an arrest of the 72-year-old grandmother. Her offense? She supposedly tried to steal the petition to remove the city manager that she herself championed.
The district court saw through this charade and denied qualified immunity to the officials. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that Sylvia had not been able to prove that the arrest was only done to retaliate against her, despite evidence that no one had been prosecuted for a similar action in the last decade in Texas. In a 2-1 decision, the judges relied on a previous case that was about police acting in a split-second decision. But again, Sylvia wasn’t arrested at the meeting; her opponents took months trying to figure out how to put her in jail.
“‘Show me the man and I will show you the crime’ is what notorious Soviet secret police leader Lavrentiy Beria once said in boasting about his ability to weaponize the law to punish government critics. What happened to Sylvia is not far removed from that. It’s not the kind of thing that’s supposed to happen in America,” said Patrick Jaicomo, IJ senior attorney.
The organizations who joined Sylvia in her fight include the ACLU, Constitutional Accountability Center, the Institute of Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Cato Institute, and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. The renowned professors standing together with Sylvia are Seth Stoughton, Sheldon Nahmod, Thomas Healy, Brandon Garrett, Brenner Fissell, Colin Miller, and Rebecca Tushnet. Fane Lozman—the plaintiff in Lozman v. City of Rivera Beach, in which the Supreme Court agreed that he had a First Amendment retaliation claim against the municipality after it arrested him for speaking out—also filed a friend of the court brief, arguing that Sylvia’s case should yield the same result.
“I am incredibly grateful for all this support,” said Sylvia Gonzalez. “When I was arrested and for a while after that, I felt like I was alone. But now I know that I am not; that we are all fighting together to ensure that people in this country are not punished when they stand up to their government.”
Amicus briefs, and the petition for certiorari, can be found here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docket/docketfiles/html/public/22-1025.html