Access to Courts

Filed - January 14, 2021

Mays v. Smith


Photo: WPR

In 1971, in a case called Bivens v. Six Unnamed Agents, the Supreme Court held that ordinary people could sue federal officials for money damages where federal officials violated the United States Constitution.

But that landmark ruling has been pared back in the decades since.

Joseph Randolph Mays was fired from his prison job in retaliation for complaining about his supervisor.

That conduct clearly violates the First Amendment, yet a district court held that Mays could not go into federal court and ask for damages because Bivens didn’t extend to the First Amendment.

In this case, the MacArthur Justice Center, alongside Rights Behind Bars, filed an amicus brief calling on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to make clear that Bivens is still good law.

Our amicus brief explains that there is a long history of allowing damages against federal officials and that Mr. Mays’ claim falls squarely in that long history.