Supreme Court to Hear Case of Cheney Back-Slap

By Danny Fenster

As Herman Cain knows, it’s a fine line between a friendly pat on the shoulder and a little too much touching. Now, Steven Howards will find out the same.

On Monday the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether or not Howards can sue the Secret Service for denying his right to free speech when protecting then-vice president Dick Cheney during a 2006 incident in Colorado.

At a mall in Beaver Creek, Colo., a Secret Service agent said he heard Howards speaking into his cellphone, describing his plan to ask the vice president “how many kids he’s killed today,” according to the New York Times. Howards later approached Cheney, telling him his administration’s “policies in Iraq are disgusting,” then touched Cheney on the shoulder.

The shoulder tap has been variously described as a pat, a slap and a strike, which caused Cheney’s shoulder to dip, according to the Times. When agents confronted Howards he denied touching the vice president and said “if you don’t want other people sharing their opinions, you should have him avoid public places.” He was then arrested for assault and given to local authorities, charged with harassment–charges which were later dropped.

A federal district judge in Denver ruled that the suit against the agents could proceed.  A three-panel on the Court of Appeals subsequently reversed some of that ruling, saying that agents had a right to arrest Howards after he touched Cheney. Conversely, it ruled that the Howards’s claim for retaliatory arrest could  proceed to trial, saying his First Amendment rights may have been violated because agents could have been “substantially motivated” to take action against him based on his remarks, the Times reported.

The Supreme Court will now take on this touchy issue.

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