Florida man back at Supreme Court with 1st Amendment case

MIAMI (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a First Amendment case brought by a Florida man who previously won a landmark ruling from the justices on whether his floating home was a house, not a boat subject to easier government seizure under laws that govern ships and boats.

This time, the justices agreed to hear a case in which Fane Lozman sued after being charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at a public meeting.

Lozman, 56, was never brought to trial on the charges; prosecutors dropped them after concluding there was no possibility of a conviction. Lozman then sued Riviera Beach, claiming his arrest at a 2006 City Council meeting violated the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee because it was in retaliation for opposing a marina redevelopment plan and accusing council members of corruption.

A jury sided with the city after a trial and an appeals court upheld that verdict. Lozman, however, took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing in part that U.S. appeals courts across the country are split on the issue of retaliatory arrest versus free speech.

The Supreme Court will likely schedule oral argument in Lozman’s latest case for late this winter or early spring. The case comes at a time of more frequent protests across the U.S. against the administration of President Donald Trump, over police race relations and divisive issues such as Confederate monuments.

The First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes government openness and transparency in Florida, said, in a brief supporting Lozman, it’s important for governments to have clear guidance from the Supreme Court on balancing probable cause for an arrest with free speech rights.

The Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling on Lozman’s floating home, which was seized and destroyed by Rivera Beach, was seen by legal experts as an important precedent in maritime law for thousands of people who make their homes on the water as well as floating businesses such as casinos. Different laws apply to vessels and homes, with homeowners receiving more protection from seizure in Florida and other states.

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