(Wired) -A Florida man deserved to be arrested inside the Supreme Court building last year for wearing a jacket painted with “Occupy Everything,” and is lucky he was only apprehended on unlawful entry charges, the Department of Justice says.
The President Barack Obama administration made that assertion in a legal filing in response to a lawsuit brought by Fitzgerald Scott, who is seeking $1 million in damages for his January 2012 arrest inside the Supreme Court building. He also wants his arrest record expunged.
What’s more, the authorities said the former Marine’s claim that he was protected by the First Amendment bolsters the government’s position (.pdf) because the Supreme Court building’s public interior is a First Amendment-free zone.
Fitzgerald was not disturbing anybody, but was repeatedly told by court staff to leave the building or remove the coat. Outside the building, about a dozen “Occupy” protesters were arrested.
Inside, Fitzgerald was handcuffed and arrested for unlawful entry as he was viewing an exhibit on slavery.
Here is the District of Columbia’s ‘unlawful entry’ statute:
Any person who, without lawful authority, shall enter, or attempt to enter, any public building, or other property, or part of such building, or other property, against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof or his or her agent, or being therein or thereon, without lawful authority to remain therein or thereon shall refuse to quit the same on the demand of the lawful occupant, or of the person lawfully in charge thereof or his or her agent, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000, imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.
Prosecutors eventually dismissed the charges, and he sued. (.pdf)
To be sure, the courts have upheld convictions of those wearing inappropriate clothing inside the high court’s building — once in 2011 for individuals wearing orange shirts that said “Shut Down Guantanamo” and in 2007 for protesters wearing orange jump suits and black hoods — all in violation of the so-called “Display Clause.”
The Obama administration said Wednesday that Scott could also have been arrested and charged with violating the Display Clause, which makes it “unlawful to parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages in the Supreme Court Building or grounds, or to display in the Building and grounds a flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement.”
“It also bears noting that, while plaintiff was initially charged with violating the unlawful entry statute, his conduct also violated the Display Clause of section 6135, and he could just as easily have been charged with an independent violation of that statute as well,” the Obama administration said.