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Supreme Court Buffered

Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a law that prevents protestors from coming within 35 feet of abortion clinics in Massachusetts. The decision against the buffer zone was unanimous, ruling the law a violation of the First Amendment.

Ironically, the Supreme Court itself still has a buffer zone — federal law prohibits protestors from congregating on the plaza around the Supreme Court building. In fact, a challenge to the Supreme Court buffer zone is making its way through the courts. Meanwhile, a year ago the court issued a rule that requires pedestrians to “maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds”.



  1. James wrote:

    Funny, That is just what I thought when the decision came down.

    Friday, June 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  2. westomoon wrote:

    I’ve been pondering this decision — largely as a way to counter the surprising burst of homicidal rage it produced in me.

    The Supremes seem to have created a new First Amendment right — the right of unlimited access to your chosen audience. So I have the right to speak my piece, as always, but you no longer have the right not to hear me. As long as I’m talking, even if I’m screaming abuse at you, I’m sacrosanct.

    This thing could have really wide ramifications — haven’t they just nullified the concept of a restraining order? After all, Massachusetts passed this law in response to a mass shooting at a clinic. If you can’t protect a clinic and its staff and patrons from proven violence in the name of free speech, what gives anyone the right to be protected from anything, so long as the violence also includes speech?

    Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  3. Michael wrote:

    I don’t see this decision as quite so dire, and I disagree with your interpretations, Westomoon. SCOTUS didn’t create a new right of unlimited access. The decision was that the blanket 35-foot rule that MA passed was too blunt. While there certainly are obnoxious protestors, there are also well-intentioned, respectful, and polite individuals that were also impacted by the rule. These “sidewalk counselors” aimed to provide information about alternative services and were not there to intimidate women. The 35-foot rule made it impossible for these individuals to speak in a calm tone, because the distance mandates screaming in order to be heard.

    While the Scalia/Thomas/Kennedy faction called for overturning Hill v. Colorado, the majority decision did not do so. Consequently, states can still have rules like Colorado’s floating 8-foot “bubble zone” that aims to balance free speech rights with freedom of access. Protestors are still not allowed to block access or engage in intimidating speech. And the decision certainly does not have any impact on restraining orders. The latter are granted based on specific circumstances/threats and apply to individuals. The MA law ignored specifics and applied collectively to everyone. A woman can’t get a blanket restraining order against all men because she feels threatened by gender differences.

    Let me state that I have absolutely no sympathy for people that protest outside of abortion clinics. I think what they do is vile and misogynistic. They are inflicting their rage on vulnerable individuals in absurdly irrational and ineffective ways. They frequently resort to outright lies (see the fictitious abortion-breast cancer link) as a means to an end. But the First Amendment protects their free speech rights, at least on public land such as sidewalks. As such, we have to tolerate them as the nuisance they are.

    Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  4. ebdoug wrote:

    I would like to picket an abortion clinic with the sign “I WANT MY TAXES RAISED TO CARE FOR ALL THESE UNWANTED CHILDREN, MEDICIAL, SOCIAL, EDUCATION. SOCIAL SERVICES FOR THE ABUSE THEY WILL GET, PRISON CARE, MORE SOCIAL SERVICES, ETC.” Myself, I hate to see children abused. Abuse is what they get before they are born (drugs) and after (neglect and worse)
    I’ll bet the same people picketing abortion clinics oppose the children coming to our country as immigrants.

    Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  5. Jon wrote:

    Michael, I’m pretty sure the 35-foot law was not originally passed in order to keep “sidewalk counselors” away from women seeking abortions but rather as a response to women not only feeling but physically BEING threatened. The Colorado law does indeed sound like a better solution than no protection at all for women, however.

    Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink