Hmm . . . The Supreme Court Enjoys a Much Bigger Buffer Zone than the One It Just Took Away from Abortion Clinics

Here's a nice little piece of irony to get your blood boiling.  It concerns buffer zones and the Supreme Court. On Thursday, the Court ruled that women seeking abortions and healthcare in Massachusetts are no longer entitled to the 35-foot buffer zones where they can enter and exit unmolested by so-called right-to-lifers.

The Roberts Court said that the 35-foot buffer zone violates the protestors' First Amendment rights.

But pro-choice advocates have pointed out that the Supreme Court recognizes the value of buffer zones, because the high court itself enjoys a rather large one—way larger than 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts the Justices ruled unconstitutional.

The plaza between the Court's entrance and the sidewalk is subject to a number of rules banning activity that "is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers" and saying these rules are necessary "to maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds."

The plaza is at least five times as big as the 35-foot buffer zone.

Of course, legally speaking, the Supreme Court buffer zone might not stand up to the test either, but no one has yet litigated it.

Some of the background, according to Vox

In the 1983 case of United States v Grace, the Supreme Court actually struck down a law that banned demonstrations on the sidewalk outside the Court. In the Grace case, using language that was cited in the abortion decision, the Court held that public ways and sidewalks occupy a "special position in terms of First Amendment protection" and the government's ability to restrict speech in such locations is "very limited."

The more recent regulations, however, target not the sidewalk but the plaza laying between the Court's entrance and the sidewalk. Even so, in 2013 Federal District Court Judge Beryl Howell struck down the rules against protesting in the plaza, citing the Grace decision. However, rather than react to the decision by rescinding the rule, the Marshall of the United States Supreme Court issued a new version of the rules.

Those new regulations (regarding "decorum" and attention-getting behavior) exempt "the perimeter sidewalk" from their scope, this being an apparent effort to distinguish the rule from what was struck down in Grace.

So, at some point, the Supremes, in their eagerness to protect the free-speech rights of rabid pro-lifers (and anyone who has ever encountered these protestors know they do a lot more than speaking and expressing themselves harmlessly), and of course the free-speech rights of corporations and rich folks who express their political views with giant piles of cash, may have to rule on granting such rights to people protesting the Supreme Court.

Until then, no precise legal rationale for why the sidewalk/plaza distinction matters or the constitutional relevance of "decorum" has yet been offered.

h/t: Vox


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