Judge Overturns 64-Year-Old Law Banning Protests in Front of Supreme Court: Roberts Fights Back

Friday, June 14, 2013
Pro-healthcare reform protest in front of Supreme Court (photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

For more than six decades, it’s been legal to protest near the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, just not directly outside of it.


But a federal judge ruled this week that a 64-year-old law prohibiting demonstrators from marching on the marble plaza in front of the Supreme Court is unconstitutional.


Judge Beryl A. Howell called the legislation passed by Congress in 1949 “unreasonable” and “substantially overbroad.”


“It cannot possibly be consistent with the First Amendment for the government to so broadly prohibit expression in virtually any form in front of a courthouse, even the Supreme Court,” Howell wrote in a 68-page opinion.


The legal challenge to the law came from Harold Hodge, a Maryland man who was arrested in 2011 outside the Supreme Court building while wearing a sign that read; “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People.”


The charge against Hodge was dismissed after he agreed to stay away from the building for six months.


He decided, however, to fight the law with the help of The Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties organization.


Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court on Thursday responded to Howell’s ruling by issuing a new regulation that orders visitors to “maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds.” It also bans “picketing, speech making, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Judge Tosses out Law Banning Protests on Supreme Court Plaza (by Robert Barnes, Washington Post)

Supreme Court Issues New Rule Barring Protests on Plaza (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)

Harold Hodge Jr. v. Pamela Talkin et al (United States District Court for the District of Columbia) (pdf)


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