It is the kind of free-speech case that one might expect to wend
its way through the legal system all the way up to the US Supreme
An anti-abortion protester displays a series of large posters
depicting in graphic detail the results of a particularly gruesome
abortion method. The signs are shocking and offensive to many who
walk by on the sidewalk, including busloads of children.
A security official confronts the protester, telling him that he
must remove the posters or face arrest because they are in violation
of a regulation that limits the size of protest signs.
When the protester says he is unaware of any size limits, he is
informed that this particular regulation has just been adopted that
same day. The protester refuses to remove his signs, which are
confiscated, and the man is led away to jail.
What makes this scenario particularly interesting is that the
government agency in question is the Supreme Court itself. As a
result of the April 25 encounter, the high court now finds itself in
the unusual position of being a defendant in a case that implicates
some of the most basic freedoms in the US Constitution.
"Sweeping public speech off the sidewalk to improve the
appearance of the court that is supposed to be protecting the right
of freedom of speech is the antithesis of the rule of constitutional
law," says James Matthew Henderson of the American Center for Law
and Justice, which is representing the protester.
LAWYERS for the protester asked a federal judge to strike down
the new regulation as a violation of the First Amendment.
Instead, US District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled last month that the
new regulation was a reasonable means of maintaining "suitable order
and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds."
The judge also ruled that there was no evidence to suggest that
the high court's new regulation was adopted in an effort to muzzle
the abortion protester by disrupting his demonstration.
The protester, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, has accused the court of
engaging in a form of censorship by adopting a regulation that he
believes was aimed at undercutting a message court officials found
Mr. Henderson has filed a motion asking Judge Hogan to reconsider
his earlier ruling. If the judge refuses, Mr. Mahoney and Henderson
have the option of taking the case to a federal appeals court panel.
After that the case could, in theory, rise to the high court itself.
Some legal analysts say that, in light of similar protest-sign
restrictions at the White House and Lafayette Park, the case faces
an uphill battle. …