Supreme Court

Supreme Court Plaza Is a Free Speech–Free Zone


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When taxes aren't taxes and private property isn't private, it's nice when free speech is free—or at least somewhat free. But while the Supreme Court has been relatively good at upholding free speech rights lately, those rights apparently don't extend to the plaza in front of the courthouse itself. The New York Times reports:

That vast and inviting space, with its benches and fountains, seems better suited to public debate than a military funeral or the sidewalk outside an abortion clinic. But the court insists on banning free speech on the plaza. Court police officers have been known to instruct visitors to remove small buttons bearing political messages.

The ban in question decrees it unlawful "to parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages" or "to display…any flag, banner, or device" that might bring attention to a group on the grounds of the Supreme Court. A federal judge struck down the policy last year, finding the law an unconstitutional restriction of free speech:

The case involves Harold H. Hodge Jr., a student from Maryland who was arrested on the plaza in 2011. His crime was wearing a sign that read, "U.S. Gov. Allows Police to Illegally Murder and Brutalize African Americans and Hispanic People."

Jeffrey Light, the plaintiff's lawyer, argues that "the plaza part is a public forum and it's an absolute ban on First Amendment. The way it is now, even tourists with messages on their T-shirts could be arrested."

Hodge isn't the only one who has been harassed for political speech. A woman holding a sign with the exact text of the First Amendment has also been threatened with arrest.

But the marshal of the Supreme Court, Pamela "Shh, No Talking" Talkin, is fighting the ruling tooth and nail in an appeals court. According to her lawyers, there ain't no such thing as free speech in a marble plaza:

The Supreme Court addressed the law in 1983, in United States v. Grace, ruling that it could not be applied to demonstrations on the public sidewalks around the court. Since then, the sidewalks…have been regularly used for protests of all kinds. But the First Amendment vanishes when concrete turns to marble, Justice Department lawyers representing Ms. Talkin told the appeals court.

Talkin's brief cited the possibility that "demonstrations outside courthouses might give rise to actual or apparent efforts to subject judicial officers to improper influence." Supreme Court justices are apparently as delicate and impressionable as college students these days. The worry about "improper influence" also unreasonably assumes that our justices aren't already influenced by things other than the letter of the law.

This might be a small battle in the larger free speech war. But it bodes ill for First Amendment fighters when the Supreme Court can't even consistently apply constitutional protections on its own doorstep.

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  1. It’s right there in the FYTW clause. BTW, progs have cited this as a justification for other restrictions on free speech. It must suck to put 2 and 2 together and get -4 or 4i.

  2. my friend’s aunt makes $61 /hr on the computer . She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her pay check was $12328 just working on the computer for a few hours. pop over to this web-site……


    1. How about you have your friend’s aunt write her salary on a sign and try and walk around the Supreme Court Plaza waving it around?

  3. See, concrete is American, so you have free speech rights there. Marble is like ancient Rome, so you’re lucky they don’t send you into the Coliseum to fight lions or gladiators. And don’t distract the Justices with the actual text of the Constitution! They have whole bookshelves full of scholarly opinions telling them what to think — they don’t need to read the original parchment.

    1. ^^^ Read in Imitation George W Bush voice for best comedic effect.

      1. That really does make it funnier.

  4. Wait, what happened to Cohen?

    1. That’s the “Fuck the Draft” case the SCOTUS ruled on many years ago, which involved a guy wearing a jacket with those words in a courthouse. I think it involved a law that was too vague in its restrictions, so maybe that’s how the First Amendment is being, um, dealt with here.

  5. This needs a few more test cases. If I had any desire or reason to go to DC ever again in my life, I’d go hold some signs in the SC plaza.

    The reasoning just seems idiotic. If you have to worry about people’s free expression improperly influencing judicial officers, you need to look more closely at the people who are judicial officers, not at the people who are holding the signs or pamphlets or whatever. It also ignores the fact that judicial officers go to other places besides the courthouse steps and might be influenced there as well.

    1. ding ding ding!

  6. I think lower courts may have some Schadenfreude about ruling against the Supreme Court – since the Court here is acting in its administrative not judicial capacity, its decisions are subject to judicial review, and judges accustomed to being overruled by the Court may get a bit of a boner from having a chance to overrule the Court itself.

  7. Why does this remind me of:

    Gentlemen ! You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room !

  8. You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room !

    Exactly what I was thinking.

    Cthulu forbid people express their views at the scene of what is theoretically the ultimate forum of legal and political analysis in the country.

  9. “The worry about “improper influence” also unreasonably assumes that our justices aren’t already influenced by things other than the letter of the law.”

    There we go – the Supremes think they can make policy decisions, rejecting the “naive” belief that they’re a mere court of law, and then they get all huffy when demonstrators try to appeal to them as if they were a policymaking body.

  10. Talkin’s brief cited the possibility that “demonstrations outside courthouses might give rise to actual or apparent efforts to subject judicial officers to improper influence.”

    So my READ THE GODDAM CONSTITUTION, YOU MORONS sign is unquestionably verboten.

    1. And there’s your test case. Hand out copies of the Constitution in front of the Supreme Court.

  11. Hand out copies of the Constitution in front of the Supreme Court.

    They’d pack you off to the LePetomaine Sanitarium for the Criminally Insane before you could say, “Get your hands off me. I know my rights!”

    1. I didn’t get a “harrumph” out of that guy

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