Once upon a time, in 2016, a cop got hit in the face with a rock during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, La., and decided that one of the leaders of said protest, DeRay Mckesson, was responsible. In 2017, a federal judge decided that’s not how any of this works and dismissed a lawsuit filed by the cop against Mckesson and the BLM organization.
The officer—who hasn’t been identified and reportedly suffered injuries to his teeth, jaw and brain—appealed the decision in 2019 and the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived the claim against Mckesson despite one of the three judges having a change of heart after the ruling had been made.
According to Yahoo News, Mckesson appealed to the Supreme Court after the case against him was revived and, on Monday, the court threw out the lower court’s ruling that allowed the lawsuit to proceed. The justices’ unsigned order stated that more legal analysis is needed to determine whether Louisiana state law allows for an organizer of a protest to be held financially accountable for injuries an officer sustained during the event even though the organizer didn’t personally cause the injuries.
McKesson has argued that the rights of freedom of speech and assembly under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment should shield him from the lawsuit that accused him of negligence for leading the protest in Baton Rouge, but the court did not resolve that issue.
“The constitutional issue, though undeniably important, is implicated only if Louisiana law permits recovery under these circumstances in the first place,” the court said in the unsigned ruling.
The officer sustained serious injuries after being struck in the face by a rock or piece of concrete thrown by an unknown person, not by McKesson.
Litigation will now continue in lower courts.
Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented and newly appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate, the ruling said.
“The Fifth Circuit should not have ventured into so uncertain an area of tort law—one laden with value judgments and fraught with implications for First Amendment rights—without first seeking guidance on potentially controlling Louisiana law from the Louisiana Supreme Court,” the court’s ruling said, according to USA Today.
CNBC reports that Mckesson said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s decision “recognizes that holding me liable for organizing a protest because an unidentifiable person threw a rock raises First Amendment concerns” and that he is “gratified that the Supreme Court vacated the ruling below, but amazingly, the fight is not over.”
Vera Eidelman, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Mckesson, also said that the ACLU is “gratified the Supreme Court has recognized there are important First Amendment issues at stake and has asked the state courts to review whether their law even permits such a suit.”
With the case having been sent back to the lower courts for review, Eidelman said that she believes the decision dismissing the lawsuit will be upheld.
“We look forward to a ruling reaffirming that the fundamental right to protest cannot be attacked in this way,” Eidelman said, CNBC reports.