The appeals ruling involved the civil rights of protestor Harold Hodge of Southern Maryland. In January 2011 after ignoring three warnings by Supreme Court police, Hodge was arrested while wearing a sign inside of the plaza near the front of the Court’s entrance that read, “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police to Illegally Murder and Brutalize African Americans and Hispanic People.”
Calling it a “special enclave,” Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote for a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday upholding a longstanding federal statute established in 1949 that prohibits “assemblages” and “displays” on the elevated plaza in front of the Supreme Court building. In its ruling, the D.C. Circuit wrote “Under the lenient First Amendment standards applicable to nonpublic forums, the government can impose reasonable restrictions on speech as long as it refrains from suppressing particular viewpoints.” Including the above photograph as an example of the area that is off-limits, the court noted that the restriction does not alter the 1983 Supreme Court ruling that allows the public sidewalks in front of the plaza to be a public forum, protected under the First Amendment.
The appeals ruling involved the civil rights of protestor Harold Hodge of Southern Maryland. In January 2011 after ignoring three warnings by Supreme Court police, Hodge was arrested while wearing a sign inside of the plaza near the front of the Court’s entrance that read, “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police to Illegally Murder and Brutalize African Americans and Hispanic People.” Police agreed to conditionally drop the charges if Hodge refrained from appearing at the Court for six months, for which he complied. Following his time away however, Hodge sued the government, claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated. Lawyers for the Supreme Court argued that the restriction was needed for the “unimpeded ingress and egress of visitors to the court.” In 2013, D.C. District Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled that the 1949 statute was unconstitutional, and that “The absolute prohibition on expressive activity in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad and irreconcilable with the First Amendment.”
As a response to Judge Howell’s ruling, the Supreme Court issued a series of regulations, essentially upholding the 1949 statute and continuing the legal battle. Although a similar ban had been struck down involving the Capitol in 1972, Judge Srinivasan noted that courts are different because they rely on the logic of legal arguments and not by public pressure. Srinivasan referenced Justice Stephen Breyer’s 2010 statement that the plaza outside the Court is a place for “contemplation of the court’s central purpose, the administration of justice to all who seek it.” Srinivasan also believes that the restrictions are non-discriminatory, writing that “Demonstrations supporting the court’s decisions and demonstrations opposing them are equally forbidden in the plaza.” In response to the appeals ruling, attorney Jeffrey Light from the non-profit civil liberties group the Rutherford Institute, has said that his client has not decided whether or not to take the case to the full appeals bench, or to petition the case directly to the Supreme Court itself.
Huffington Post – Cristian Farias
Wall Street Journal Law Blog – Jess Bravin
Washington Post – Robert Barnes