United States v. Brett Bursey Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

United States v. Brett Bursey is an appeal brief filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and cooperating attorney Lewis Pitts, charging that the Secret Service violated its own regulations in order to keep protesters far removed from the President and the press.

Brett Bursey was a long time political activist in South Carolina who was convicted in January 2004 of entering a Secret Service restricted zone when he was peaceably protesting against President George W. Bush at a public airport in Columbia, South Carolina. Bursey was holding a sign that read, “No more war for oil, don’t invade Iraq.” He was arrested and fined $5,000. 

Although some 6,000 people waving pro-Bush signs were allowed into the so-called restricted zone, only Bursey and several other protesters were ordered to leave. Bursey claims that when he asked the police officer, “You’re going to arrest me for the content of my sign?” he replied, “That’s right.”

Bursey was originally charged with trespassing, but the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled then that the airport was public property and people could not be charged with trespassing on public property. Then, the United States Attorney charged him under the federal statute. On September 14, 2004, District Court Judge Cameron Carrie upheld Bursey’s trespassing conviction and fined him $500. Bursey filed an appeal on April 12, 2004 to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the district court’s decision on July 25, 2005. Bursey’s writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court was denied on January 17, 2006. 

CCR was disappointed by the ruling’s negative effect on the First Amendment and continues to fight for the right to demonstrate.