Court Quiets Silent Protest Case at Hillary Clinton Speech

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 06, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ray McGovern stood with the audience and then turned his back to Hillary Clinton as she spoke at George Washington University.

Printed on his shirt -- "Veterans for Peace" -- was his message. He stood there until two guards escorted him out of the room -- that's when his silent protest got ugly.

McGovern sued for constitutional violations, but a federal judge dismissed in McGovern v. Brown. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed, saying the officers had probable cause to arrest him.

Probable Cause

In his complaint, McGovern said the officers "brutalized" him, "contorting him into a painful headlock." He said they then "rammed" him into a door.

That part of his story was not captured in the videotape that circulated on news stations covering the event. The DC Circuit said McGovern's version of events "is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him."

However, the video did capture him yelling as the guards dragged him out: "So this is America? This is America?"

McGovern made a free speech claim, but it didn't get very far.

Free Speech

In the trial court, McGovern conceded that the university was a private institution. That meant, the court said, citing a 1982 law review article, he did not have a right to free speech at the event.

On appeal, McGovern questioned only whether the officers had probable cause to arrest him and use excessive force. The appeals court said they acted reasonably.

"The officer's statement, twice repeated, was framed in polite terms -- "Sir, would you please come with me?" the DC Circuit recited.

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