Per the consummate SCOTUS watcher, Lyle Denniston, and the authoritative SCOTUS Blog — a bit:
. . . .Taking on a case that grew out of a citizen’s arrest after he made an anti-war remark and jostled then-Vice President Richard Cheney, the Supreme Court agreed Monday to sort out when an arrest is invalid because it may have been carried out in retaliation for the exercise of free-speech rights. Two Secret Service agents, seeking to head off a civil rights lawsuit against them, argue that they had a valid reason for arresting a Colorado man in 2006, so he has no First Amendment claim. . . .
The Secret Service case will be decided by an eight-member Court, since Justice Elena Kagan took herself out of the case, presumably because she had had some contact with it in her former position as Solicitor General. The case is likely to be set for argument in the March or April sittings. At issue is a ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court, based in Denver, that denied legal immunity to the agents because, it said, the law was clear that law enforcement officers may not arrest an individual who has exercised First Amendment rights. The fact that the agents had “probable cause” to make the arrest did not overcome the individual’s free-speech rights, the Circuit Court ruled.
The case will require the Court to sort out the impact on the case of its own ruling in 2006, in the case of Hartman v. Moore. In that case, the Court said that, if there is probable cause sufficient to justify filing charges, then that neutralizes a claim that the prosecution was started in retaliation for criticizing a public official or agency. In the new Secret Service agents’ case, the Tenth Circuit said that precedent only dealt with retaliatory prosecution, not retaliatory arrest. The federal Circuit Courts are split on that last point, and that division is apparently what led the Supreme Court to step in. . . .
We will keep you posted, come March 2012 — linking the oral argument .mp3 files (I love how easy this has all become, in the ensuing years — since I started covering this case, in early 2006!). Here is the order (a 2 page PDF file) directing the Colorado District Court to send the trial records up to the Supremes, for review.