A raised middle finger is a form of free speech, a court has ruled, allowing a lawsuit by a driver who made the vulgar gesture at a police officer.
The decision came from the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The case started in June 2017, when Debra L. Cruise-Gulyas was stopped for driving over the speed limit in Taylor, Mich. According to the opinion written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton for a panel of three judges, officer Matthew Minard wrote her a ticket for a nonmoving violation, which is less serious than a typical speeding ticket. Cruise-Gulyas was driving away when, "she made an all-too-familiar gesture at Minard. … That did not make Minard happy."
He pulled her over again, the opinion said, and changed the ticket to reflect the more serious violation of speeding.
Those were two separate traffic stops. The judges found that the first stop was justified but that the second stop was not.
Cruise-Gulyas claimed in a lawsuit that Minard violated the First Amendment, by retaliating against her because of protected speech; the Fourth Amendment, because of the unreasonable seizure; and the 14th Amendment, for restricting her liberty.
Minard argued for "qualified immunity," a legal doctrine that can protect officials from lawsuits if they can show they were essentially acting in good faith.