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U.S. Supreme Court hears Riviera Beach city council meeting free-speech dispute

Posted at 4:08 PM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 21:47:08-05

After a 12-year-long legal battle, the case of Riviera Beach resident Fane Lozman against the city was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Lozman was arrested at a city council meeting in 2006. He had only taken the podium for a few moments before then-City Council member Elizabeth Wade ordered him to stop talking and eventually asked an officer to “carry” Lozman out.

The incident was caught on video.

On Tuesday Chief Justice John Roberts said he found the video “chilling.” Even the attorneys arguing on behalf of the city agreed the facts of their case were “troubling”. 

But, as with any case heard before the Supreme Court, this is not just about Lozman.

Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer were particularly concerned with the implications of their ruling on law enforcement agencies across the country.

“I’m very concerned about police officers in difficult decisions,” Kennedy said. 

What if, Justice Kennedy argued, someone is getting arrested while burning cars? Could that person turn around and argue the police officer wanted to retaliate against him? 

Justice Roberts said in Lozman’s case, there was no riot just Lozman standing behind the podium, talking quietly. 

Justice Elena Kagan said while Lozman’s attorneys might be struggling with hypotheticals, the city’s attorneys are struggling with the facts of the case. 

Attorneys for the city argued this is an odd case, a needle in a haystack, that the justices should not make an example of.

Justice Kagan said she was concerned, if they ruled against Lozman, that they’re giving the green light to city council members that soon there would be more cases like it. 

“If I lose this case, we’ll turn into a police state because elected officials can always remove public speakers that they don’t like,” Lozman said after the hearing. 

Lozman said he thinks he has a chance of winning the case, he just isn’t sure how far the justices are willing to go. 

The attorney for the city also argued council member Wade had a right to cut off Lozman because he was “off topic”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked him how he was off topic to which he responded Lozman was talking about county commissioners instead of city council members. 

“The city is within the county?” Justice Ginsburg asked, which sparked laughter in the audience. “The arrest, at least it looked like from the tape, was motivated by Wade, who was just very annoyed at Mr. Lozman.” 

Riviera Beach City Attorney Andrew DeGraffenreidt was in the audience. After the hearing he declined to comment. 

A decision in the case will be made in June.