The ACLU is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision allowing Baltimore activist and Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay Mckesson to be sued by a police officer injured during a protest in Louisiana.
“We’re asking the Supreme Court to defend the First Amendment right to protest,” the organization tweeted Saturday morning.
The group said it wants the nation’s highest court to overturn a ruling by a federal appeals court in Louisiana that “if left standing, would gut civil rights era speech protections,” the tweet said.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it filed a petition for review Friday with the court on behalf of Mckesson.
Baton Rouge police officials could not be immediately reached on Saturday. An attorney for the police officer also could not be reached Saturday.
The lower court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld a decision in April that allowed the lawsuit filed by a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officer against Mckesson to move forward.
The officer, labeled as John Doe in the lawsuit, was injured during protests after the 2016 killing of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was shot dead by Baton Rouge police.
The lawsuit, Doe v. Mckesson, seeks damages from Mckesson for injuries the officer suffered during the July 9, 2016, protest after a protester threw a rock. The ACLU said Mckesson had joined the protest and urged others to join.
But Mckesson did not throw the rock and the officer never accused him of throwing it, the ACLU said. The lawsuit places blame on Mckesson because he encouraged the protest.
“The goal of lawsuits like these is to prevent people from showing up at a protest out of the fear that they might be held responsible if anything happens,” Mckesson said in Saturday’s announcement of the Supreme Court petition.
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He warned the suit could set a precedent of making protest organizers responsible for events over which they have no control, “such as random people coming into a protest and causing problems.”
In 2017, Judge Brian Jackson dismissed the officer’s lawsuit, citing First Amendment rights. But the Court of Appeals ruled in April that the lawsuit accusing Mckesson of negligence could proceed and should not be dismissed on First Amendment grounds.
“Mckesson should have known that leading the demonstrators onto a busy highway was most nearly certain to provoke a confrontation between police and the mass of demonstrators, yet he ignored the foreseeable danger to officers, bystanders, and demonstrators, and notwithstanding, did so anyway," Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly said in the court’s unanimous ruling.
The Supreme Court has recognized that peaceful protesters can’t be held liable for unlawful actions of others, said David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director.
“If the law had allowed anyone to sue leaders of social justice movements over the violent actions of others, there would have been no civil rights movement," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
This story has been updated.