Supreme Court bans mass protest across three states


ICNA CSJ

Date published: Wed, 17 April 24


The Supreme Court on Monday announced that it will not hear Mckesson v. Doe. The decision to not hear the case leaves the Fifth Circuit’s , a lower court, decision in place that eliminated the right to organize mass protest in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. 

The Fifth Circuit, a federal appeals court, heard the lawsuit targeting DeRay Mckesson, a figure within the Black Lives Matter movement. Vox reports that under the Fifth Circuit’s latest decision, a protest organizer who committed a minor legal violation may be held liable for the illegal actions of someone else who attended the protest. In this hearing of the case, the court faulted Mckesson for leading a protest in front of the Baton Rouge police station and for attempting to block a public highway. 

The protest that the court cited was an action where Mckesson helped organize and lead a protest following the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling. During the protest, an unknown person threw a rock at the plaintiff, who was a police officer named “John Doe” in court. The officer was struck in the face and experienced, according to the court, “injuries to his teeth, jaw, brain, and head.” 

Rather than the individual being charged for their actions of throwing a rock, the court is allowing Mckesson to be held liable. Doe is able to sue Mckesson for the actions of the unknown individual. 

According to Vox, this kind of legal case has been heard before in the Supreme Court, specifically in NAACP v. Claiborne. In this case, there was a boycott of white businesses led by the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP. Although there was more encouragement for violence by the leaders of the protests in NAACP v. Claiborne, the Supreme Court held that the emotionally charged rhetoric did not transcend the bounds of protected speech. Vox reports, “More broadly, Claiborne emphasized that courts must exercise “extreme care” before imposing liability on a political figure of any kind. In rare cases, a protest leader may be held liable for someone else’s violent actions, but one of three circumstances must exist:”

Although declining the decision by the US Supreme Court sends the case back to the lower courts, many advocates believe that the refusal to hear the case will have an effect on people who are hoping to organize. Capital B News reports, “The high court’s inaction goes beyond Mckesson and protests. It’s about race, power, and whose voices are heard and whose are muzzled in our fragile multiracial democracy. It’s also part of a much wider pattern of diminishing Black political strength, particularly in the Deep South.” Mckesson said in a statement, “The goal of lawsuits like these is to prevent people from showing up at a protest out of the fear that they might be held responsible if anything happens. But people don’t need to be afraid to show up. The Constitution still protects our right to protest.”