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Over at SCOTUSblog, there is an interesting analysis of a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The case, Wood v. Moss, stems from a 2004 incident in Jacksonville, Oregon, where President George W. Bush was campaigning for reelection. When President Bush deviated from plans and chose to dine in the outdoor patio area of a hotel restaurant, Secret Service agents and local police had to improvise so as to maintain a secure perimeter around him.
Both pro- and anti-Bush demonstrators had congregated near the hotel, and the two groups had been separated by police officers. Anti-Bush demonstrators alleged that the Secret Service and police officers allowed the pro-Bush group to remain closer to the president than the opposing group, thus denying the opponents an equal opportunity to be heard.
I have, on occasion, been assigned to work with the Secret Service when a president or some other protectee has visited Los Angeles, and I can report on what a nerve-wracking experience it can be. The public has a perception that there is an invulnerable ring around the president wherever he goes, and I shared this perception until I participated in a protection detail. Vulnerabilities are everywhere, particularly when a protectee is outdoors and within sight of an unscreened crowd. Those vulnerabilities are multiplied when the protectee veers from the approved plan, forcing the Secret Service to assess and respond on the fly. Courts have given the Secret Service wide latitude – but not immunity – when considering questions of public access to venues where the president may be appearing, but the decision in this case may narrow that latitude.