A Texas grandmother is fighting her arrest all the way up to the Supreme Court.
The Institute for Justice explains that the offense committed by Sylvia Gonzalez, 76, was to be criticizing a city manager.
The retiree lives in Castle Hills, Texas, and was arrested “in punishment for criticizing the city’s management and officials,” the IJ explained in its report.
She faced harassment, false charges, and even imprisonment, “all stemming from her efforts to hold Castle Hills city officials accountable for their actions,” the legal team said.
At issue are free speech, retaliation by government action and qualified immunity for those officials.
The IJ explained, “Sylvia’s case began in 2019. After winning a hard-fought election, Sylvia Gonzalez became the first Hispanic councilwoman in Castle Hills history. In response to concerns raised by her constituents, she championed a nonbinding, citizen-signed petition calling for the removal of the city manager. This act of political speech and petition, protected by the core of the First Amendment, was met with a coordinated campaign of retaliation by Castle Hills officials.”
City officials subsequently “engineered her arrest for allegedly tampering with a government record. They argued she’d stolen her own petition from the mayor as she was gathering her papers at the end of a council meeting.”
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Normally an offense that might trigger a summons, officials instead had her arrested so “she would spend time in jail rather than remaining free and appearing before a judge.”
The DA dropped “the trumped-up charges” but not before the local media splashed her mugshot across its pages.
Under coercion, she resigned from the council.
But she wasn’t done fighting, partnering with IJ to file a First Amendment case.
“The city attempted to have the case dismissed, but failed. When it appealed, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals astonishingly agreed, holding that Sylvia failed to prove that the arrest was unequivocally retaliatory—despite an exhaustive analysis showing no one has been prosecuted for a similar action in the last ten years in Texas,” the IJ said.
IJ Lawyer Anya Bidwell explained “[The ruling] ignores the clear evidence of retaliation against Sylvia, who was exercising her First Amendment rights. We are taking this case to the Supreme Court to ensure that government officials are held accountable when they violate the Constitution and that we stop this censorship by retaliation.”
The issues are not complicated, the IJ explained.
“At issue in this case is how qualified immunity—the controversial legal doctrine protecting government officials from being held accountable—should shield government officials who engage in a calculated effort to violate someone’s rights. Unlike on-the-beat police officers who are forced to make split-second decisions, the officials in Sylvia’s case spent months hatching a scheme to punish her. And yet the Fifth Circuit held, over dissents by Judges Andrew Oldham and James Ho, that the city officials’ actions were no different than those of a beat cop; that no amount of scheming or evidence of retaliation diminished the near-absolute immunity offered to government officials by the courts.”
The legal team noted Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently described that as nonsensical.
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