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Nazi saluter's arrest violated freedom of speech, court rules

December 15, 2010 |  2:17 pm

The city of Santa Cruz violated the 1st Amendment rights of an advocate for the homeless when the mayor had him arrested nearly nine years ago for giving a Nazi salute at a City Council meeting, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The unanimous ruling by a full 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the mayor’s action against activist Robert Norse to be "viewpoint discrimination," rather than a move to maintain order and decorum at the meeting to discuss curbs on where the homeless were permitted to sleep.

The appeals court reversed a lower-court decision to dismiss Norse's lawsuit on the grounds that city officials are immune from such legal actions.

At a June hearing on Norse's lawsuit against the city, the 9th Circuit judges made clear their concerns about the city's claim to unlimited latitude in controlling expression at public meetings.

Norse, an activist with Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom, has been challenging his ouster from City Council meetings since 2002, alleging that Santa Cruz officials were violating his constitutional rights in trying to stifle his opposition to city policies for dealing with the homeless.

The city of Santa Cruz is expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit ruling.

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-- Carol J. Williams

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