Legislative Immunity: Retaliatory Elimination of State Poet Laureate Position
The questions presented were as follows:
1. Are the former governor of New Jersey and former chairperson of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts entitled to absolute legislative immunity from suit in their individual capacities for orchestrating and directing the elimination of petitioner Amiri Baraka’s position as Poet Laureate of New Jersey, and for their actions leading up to that elimination, in response to Baraka’s public reading of a controversial poem written by him? Moreover, in determining whether state officials have engaged in legislative acts, must a court evaluate whether their acts are substantively, as well as formally, legislative, and if so, what test should be used to assess whether an act is substantively legislative?
2. Even assuming that the former governor and former agency chairperson are entitled to absolute legislative immunity from suit in their individual capacities, does that immunity block Baraka’s claims seeking prospective injunctive relief against these executive officials and their successors in their official capacities? In other words, can a personal immunity, such as absolute legislative immunity, ever bar a claim for prospective injunctive relief against a state official in his or her official capacity?
Bonnie Robin-Vergeer of Public Citizen was co-counsel for the petitioner at the cert stage, and the Supreme Court denied cert.