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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case On City’s ‘Backdoor Censorship’ Of Texas Grandmother

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case of a 72-year-old city council member who alleges her arrest by local officials was done in retaliation for backing a petition against the city manager.

Sylvia Gonzalez spent a day in jail after she was arrested for misplacing a document — the same petition she organized — and putting it in her binder during a Castle Hills, Texas, city council meeting, according to court documents. She appealed to the Supreme Court in April after the Fifth Circuit found she failed to demonstrate a violation of her constitutional rights, despite citing evidence of retaliation and noting that nobody had been prosecuted under the same statute for conduct similar to hers.

Anya Bidwell, an attorney at the Institute for Justice (IJ), the firm representing Sylvia, called the city’s arrest of Gonzalez decision “backdoor censorship.”

“We are thrilled that the Court agreed to hear Sylvia’s case,” Bidwell said in a statement Friday. “Criminal laws cannot be used to launder First Amendment violations and create backdoor censorship. But that’s exactly how Castle Hills officials used them against Sylvia.”

Gonzalez’s case asks the Supreme Court to consider what evidence is required to make a claim of a retaliatory arrest.

Under the Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling in Nieves v. Bartlett, a claim of retaliation can proceed when there is probable cause for the arrest, but only when the plaintiff can prove that “otherwise similarly situated individuals not engaged in the same sort of protected speech” were not arrested. Circuit courts disagree on whether this requires specific instances of arrests that never took place or any objective proof.

“Constitutional rights mean nothing if they can’t be enforced against government officials who violate them,” IJ Senior Attorney Patrick Jaicomo said in a statement. “This blatant abuse of power by government officials should have never happened.”

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