Access to Justice

RELEASE: Justices Weigh Immunity for Government Officials Who Target Political Adversaries with Arrest

WASHINGTON, DC – Following oral argument at the Supreme Court this morning in Gonzalez v. Trevino, a case in which the Court is considering what threshold requirements individuals must satisfy to bring First Amendment claims against a state or local official for causing their arrest in retaliation for their speech, Constitutional Accountability Center’s Deputy Chief Counsel Brian Frazelle issued the following reaction:

Five years ago, the Supreme Court made police officers less accountable when they use their arrest authority to retaliate against people whose speech the officers dislike. But the Court tried to balance that ruling with an exception that would allow clear cases of retaliation to proceed in court.

The Justices are now assessing the scope of that ruling, in response to an extreme Fifth Circuit decision that essentially forecloses all retaliatory arrest suits and reaches beyond police officers to shield even high-level government officials who engineer warrants to target their political adversaries.

During this morning’s argument, the Justices grappled with difficult line-drawing problems, but there seemed to be little sympathy for the extremity of the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

If the Justices follow the text and history of the law at issue here—a landmark statute passed after the Civil War that empowers individuals to vindicate their constitutional rights in federal court—they will reverse that flawed ruling.

Among other things, the Supreme Court has increasingly relied on nineteenth-century tort law to construe the law at issue, and as Justice Gorsuch emphasized during argument (echoing points made in our amicus brief), using that method here would ensure that high-level government officials cannot act with impunity when they target their political enemies for arrest.



Case page in Gonzalez v. Trevino:


Constitutional Accountability Center is a nonpartisan think tank and public interest law firm dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text, history, and values. Visit CAC’s website at


More from Access to Justice

Access to Justice
U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Washington

In Williams v. Washington, the Supreme Court is considering whether states may force civil rights litigants who bring claims against state officials in state court under Section 1983 to first exhaust their administrative remedies.
Access to Justice
April 12, 2024

RELEASE: Court Unanimously Rejects Atextual “Transportation Industry” Requirement for FAA Exemption, Allowing Truck Drivers Their Day in Court

WASHINGTON, DC – Following today’s decision at the Supreme Court in Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries...
By: Miriam Becker-Cohen
Access to Justice
February 20, 2024

RELEASE: Court Grapples Once Again with Federal Arbitration Act’s Exemption for Transportation Workers

WASHINGTON, DC – Following oral argument at the Supreme Court this morning in Bissonnette v....
By: Miriam Becker-Cohen
Access to Justice
February 19, 2024

Bakery Drivers Head to High Court Searching for Arbitration Exit

Bloomberg Law
Industry test would add fights on transportation firm meaning With circuits split, high court to...
By: Miriam Becker-Cohen, Jennifer Bennett
Access to Justice
January 31, 2024

The 5th Circuit Says Criminalizing Journalism Is Not Obviously Unconstitutional: The Appeals Court Dismissed a Civil Rights Lawsuit by a Laredo Gadfly Who Was Arrested for Asking Questions

Five years ago, the Harris County, Texas, Institute of Forensic Sciences sent me reports on...
Access to Justice
January 30, 2024

She Was Arrested for Her Journalism. A Federal Court Says She Can’t Sue.

Priscilla Villarreal, also known as “Lagordiloca,” has sparked a debate about free speech and who,...