Equality and Liberty

  • January 24, 2014
    Guest Post
     
    Last week, I attended the argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley, a case challenging Massachusetts’ law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. 

    The law limits anyone from occupying the space around the entrance or driveway of an abortion clinic. These limits apply whenever people identify as pro-choice or anti-choice, and have exceptions for patients, those accompanying them into the clinic, clinic staff, those on official business, and pedestrians who happen to cross a clinic’s path while on their way somewhere else. Anyone can still distribute literature, hold signs, protest, or engage in conversation—just not within that 35-foot neutral zone to let patients through.

    During the oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged that “if it was a protest, keeping them back 35 feet might not be so bad.” But then he added that this particular case is, in his view, “a counseling case, not a protest case.”
     
    This distinction is not warranted. Whether people shout loudly or talk softly is not the point. The statute’s goal is to diffuse congestion, not regulate speech. It simply ensures that patients have safe passage into clinics when exercising their own constitutional rights.
     
    In the decades since abortion was legalized in the U.S, doctors and clinic staff have been constantly threatened with harm, patients have been routinely harassed, and abortion clinics have suffered bombings, arson, and blockades. In fact, according to the National Abortion Federation, there have been eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 incidences of arson, and thousands of incidents involving other criminal activities since 1977.
     
  • January 22, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Alan E. Brownstein, Professor of Law, Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality, UC Davis School of Law
     
    Massachusetts law creates a 35 foot buffer zone around the entrances of clinics that provide abortion services. As written and applied, the law prohibits even a single individual standing on a public sidewalk near a clinic’s entrance from calmly trying to counsel women against having an abortion. During last week’s oral argument in McCullen v. Coakley, many Justices appeared to be convinced that a regulation prohibiting such seemingly quiet and persuasive speech violated the First Amendment.
     
    Massachusetts argued the law was a permissible content-neutral attempt to eliminate congestion preventing people from safely entering and leaving clinics. The regulation satisfied intermediate level scrutiny, the appropriate standard of review, because the law served an important state interest, allowed adequate alternative avenues of communication, and did not ignore less restrictive alternatives – that is, the law did not burden substantially more speech than necessary to further its purposes.
     
    The Court seemed unconvinced. Several Justices returned repeatedly to a single inquiry: If the state’s goal was to prevent people from blocking access to the clinics, why couldn’t it draft a narrower, more precise law prohibiting obstruction? One or two peaceful “counselors” would not block access to a clinic. Yet the challenged law substantially burdened their ability to communicate their message. Perhaps loud protestors with signs could communicate their message 35 feet away from the targeted audience, but soft spoken counselors needed to be closer to the women they were addressing. Even Justice Kagan, who seemed somewhat sympathetic to the state’s position, suggested the 35 foot size of the buffer zone was problematic.
     
  • January 22, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Joshua Block, LGBT Project, American Civil Liberties Union
     
    This post originally appeared on the ACLU's Blog of Rights.
     
    Yesterday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Utah to force the state to continue recognizing the marriages of more than 1,000 same-sex couples who were legally married in the weeks after a federal court struck down Utah’s bans on allowing same-sex couples to marry. From the moment the federal court in Kitchen v. Herbert issued its decision on December 20, 2013, to the moment the Supreme Court issued a stay of the ruling on January 6, 2014 while the case is appealed, there was an outpouring of same-sex couples across the state who were finally able to express their love and commitment to each other through marriage and to protect their families through the protections and responsibilities that flow from being legally married.
     
    After the Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the district court’s decision Utah’s governor has issued a directive ordering all state agencies to put the recognition of those marriages “on hold.” By terminating recognition of their marriages, the Governor’s directive effectively divorced over 1,000 couples in the eyes of the state, throwing their lives into disarray.
     
    “We’re back at square one, with no idea what’s going to happen to us if one of us is hospitalized,” says Stacia. Her wife JoNell was treated much better when accompanying her during an emergency room visit after they were married than she was the time medical staff ignored and excluded JoNell during a previous hospitalization three years ago.  “After 13 years together, we just want the security and peace of mind to know we can be there for each other in the hard times.”
     
  • January 16, 2014
     
    The remarkable silence of Chief Justice John Roberts cast a pall of uncertainty over oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley, heard yesterday morning at the Supreme Court. Adding to the unusual environment was Justice Elena Kagan, who appeared to seek a middle ground between upholding the law at hand and scrapping it altogether.
     
    That law is a 2007 regulation enacted by the Massachusetts state legislature, mandating a 35-foot “buffer zone” around all reproductive health centers. The petitioner, 77-year-old Eleanor McCullen, has spent every Tuesday and Wednesday morning for the last 13 years outside one such center: the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in downtown Boston. She claims the buffer zones infringe upon her First Amendment right to free speech by making her communication with patients less effective. “It’s America,” McCullen told NPR. “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.”
     
    Mark Rienzi, attorney for Ms. McCullen, advanced the argument that buffer zones are unconstitutional. Under the test for “time, place and manner” restrictions as outlined in Grayned v. City of Rockford, he explained, the buffer zones were not narrowly tailored to the state’s stated interest in preventing obstruction and congestion. For example, in response to objections from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Rienzi noted that laws governing military funeral protests were aimed specifically at acts that disrupt “the peace and good order” of the funeral, as opposed to all activity.
     
    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was first out of the gate with a nod to the “considerable history of disturbances” outside of reproductive health clinics and the state’s inability to pick out bad actors in advance of any given moment. Justice Stephen Breyer acknowledged the limitations of the judiciary, reminding counsel that “we’re not legislators” and suggesting that the Court did not have the basis to demand more than a “reasonable record” from policymakers. And Justice Kagan took issue with a hypothetical situation proposed by Mr. Rienzi, which featured animal rights activists who wish to persuade the employees of a slaughterhouse. “You must have used it for me to say, oh, that’s terrible,” she said. “But my reaction was kind of, ‘What’s wrong with that? Just have everyone take a step back.’”
     
  • January 6, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Reuben A. Guttman, Director, Grant & Eisenhofer; Member, ACS Board of Directors
     
    This post originally appeared on The Global Legal Post.
     
    The Washington Capitals recently faced off in a National Hockey League contest against the New York Rangers. Amidst the fanfare of a stadium packed with more than 20,000 fans, during breaks in the action the jumbotron hanging above centre ice flashed season highlights. Curiously, the highlights included not just slick passing and scoring plays but fights. Why was this curious? Well, the National Hockey League at least hints that it is trying to crack down on fighting. But how serious is the NHL when team highlight reels tout fighting? It turns out that the League's rules outline various penalties for fighting, but nowhere - at least I cannot find it - do the rules say that the league does not condone fighting or that fighting is not part of hockey. 
     
    The truth is that while the NHL packs its arenas with people who want to see fights, it struggles from a public relations perspective to guard against criticism that hockey is a violent sport; hence the purported rules that create the illusion of addressing these concerns. Remember the old joke, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out."  (As an aside, this is a shame because ice hockey - without the fights - is quite glorious.)

    The point is that professional hockey is a business. These days big business is the master of illusion, focusing attention on benevolent activity as a distraction from conduct that is problematic from a legal or public relations vantage point. 
     
    Take the case of Wal-Mart and the Walton family which created the company and owns the majority of its shares. The Walton Family Foundation has given millions to the Environmental Defense  Fund, a US based environmental NGO, which in turn has praised Wal-Mart for being a "green company." At the same time Wal-Mart is winning accolades for its greenness, it is being pursued by the United States Department of Justice and various State Attorneys Generals for violations of the US Clean Water Act.  Embracing NGOs that perhaps were at one time corporate critics is just one facet of the illusion game.