The Supreme Court ruled for the first time Tuesday that local legislators, such as city council members, can never be sued for actions that are part of "legitimate legislative activity."

Ruling unanimously in a case from Fall River, Mass., the court gave local legislators the same "absolute immunity" from civil rights lawsuits enjoyed by their federal, state and regional counterparts.Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court that "absolute immunity for local legislators finds support not only in history but also in reason."

The ruling does not shield city officials from lawsuits stemming from the many administrative matters they carry out, such as hiring and firing employees or dealing with the public. But it does shield them for their legislative functions, such as introducing or enacting an ordinance.

People who believe their rights were violated by some legislative action are still free to sue the city or governmental entity. However, Tuesday's ruling thwarts their efforts to sue the individual officials.