The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

"Three Women Sentenced to Probation for Interrupting Oral Arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court"


From a Justice Department press release Tuesday:

Two Virginia women and an Arizona woman, who verbally interrupted oral arguments inside the United States Supreme Court, each pleaded guilty January 13, 2023, to a single count of Speeches and Objectionable Language in the Supreme Court Building. The defendants were sentenced to one-year terms of probation with stay-away orders from the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to court documents, on November 2, 2022, the Supreme Court held oral arguments the matter of Bittner v. United States. Emily Archer Paterson, 45, of McLean, VA, Nicole Elizabeth Enfield, 44, of Alexandria, VA, and Rolande Baker, 71, of Tucson, AZ, attended the argument. The women spread out in the courtroom, each sitting in a different area. Once arguments began, defendant Paterson stood up and loudly spoke out against the Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. Ms. Paterson's conduct caused the attorney arguing before the Court to stop speaking so that Ms. Paterson could be escorted out of the room. After arguments resumed, Ms. Baker stood up and interrupted the Court in a similar manner. Following her removal, arguments resumed. Finally, Ms. Enfield stood up, causing a third interruption in the case at bar. Each defendant's conduct required the attorney before the Court to stop his argument so the defendant speaking could be removed from the courtroom.

"The government must be able to conduct its business." said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves. "Interrupting Supreme Court proceedings, even non-violently and briefly, is not First-Amendment protected activity: it is a crime and must be treated as such."

Each defendant was charged with one count of the federal misdemeanor offense of Speeches and Objectionable Language in the Supreme Court Building. Each defendant promptly accepted responsibility for her conduct and entered a guilty plea.

Ms. Paterson, Ms. Enfield, and Ms. Baker were sentenced by the Honorable Judge Amit P. Mehta to one year of probation, with an order to stay away from the U.S. Supreme Court building and grounds.