Supreme Court Calls Protest Buffer Zone Unconstitutional…Except in Front of the Supreme Court

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Supreme Court on Thursday, in a unanimous opinion (pdf) in the case of McCullen vs. Coakley, struck down a Massachusetts law that provided for a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances to abortion clinics, so that women wanting to use the clinics’ services wouldn’t be harassed by anti-abortion protesters. The nine brave justices made this ruling from within a building surrounded by a buffer zone against protesters.


“Of note, the Justices who voted to strike down the Massachusetts law today are protected by their own buffer zone,” Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts CEO Marty Walz told Business Insider. “They made no mention of that buffer zone, and the opinion raises the question of whether the buffer zone at the Supreme Court is in fact constitutional.” The zone in front of the Supreme Court is about 252 feet long.


Just a year ago, the Supreme Court issued a new regulation that ordered visitors to “maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds.” It also banned “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.”


The high court might get a chance to decide the constitutionality of its own buffer zone. Harold Hodge Jr. was arrested in 2011 for protesting on the plaza outside the Supreme Court. A trial court ruled in Hodge’s favor and the case is about to go before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit


In Massachusetts, police might have to return to a system involving a “bubble” around patients. That was in use before the 35-foot zone went into effect, but police found it difficult to enforce the bubble against determined anti-abortion protesters. “One tool has now been taken away,” Walz said. “We will now use the other tools at our disposal.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Here’s The Ultimate Irony Of The Supreme Court Banning ‘Buffer Zones’ At Abortion Clinics (by Brett Logiurato, Business Insider)

How Can The Supreme Court Have A Protest Buffer Zone If Abortion Clinics Can’t? (by Matthew Yglesias, Vox)

Court Rejects Zone to Buffer Abortion Clinic (by Adam Liptak and John Schwartz, New York Times)

Judge Overturns 64-Year-Old Law Banning Protests in Front of Supreme Court: Roberts Fights Back (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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