Skip to main content

On The Front Lines

In an Attempt to Override a Federal Court Ruling Permitting Expressive Activities on Plaza, Supreme Court Outlaws Expressive Activities

WASHINGTON, DC — In the wake of a ruling by a District of Columbia federal court declaring a 60-year old ban on expressive activity on the U.S. Supreme Court plaza to be “repugnant” to the Constitution, the marshal for the Supreme Court—with the approval of Chief Justice John Roberts—has issued even more strident regulations outlawing expressive activity on the grounds of the high court, including the plaza. Both court actions come in response to a lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute on behalf of Harold Hodge, a 46-year-old African-American man who was arrested in January 2011 while standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building wearing a sign voicing his concerns about the government’s disparate treatment of African-Americans and Hispanics. Hodge plans to visit the U.S. Supreme Court plaza today, June 14, at 3 pm EST.

“There are a good many things that are repugnant to the Constitution right now—mass surveillance of Americans, roadside strip searches, forcible DNA extractions, SWAT team raids, civil commitments for criticizing the government, etc.—but for the U.S. Supreme Court to overtly prohibit expressive activity on its grounds in defiance of a federal court ruling declaring it a free speech zone shows exactly how perverse our so-called system of justice has become,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

On January 28, 2011, Harold Hodge quietly and peacefully stood in the plaza area near the steps leading to the United States Supreme Court Building, wearing a 3’ X 2’ sign around his neck that proclaimed: “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People.” A police officer informed Hodge that he was violating a federal law that makes it unlawful to display any flag, banner or device designed to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement while on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court and issued him three warnings to leave the plaza. Hodge refused, was handcuffed, placed under arrest for violating 40 U.S.C. § 6135, moved to a holding cell, and then was transported to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters where he was booked and given a citation. The charge was dismissed in September 2011 after Hodge complied with an agreement to stay away from the Supreme Court building and grounds for six months.

In asking the U.S. District Court to declare 40 U.S.C. § 6135 unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, Rutherford Institute attorneys argued that absolute prohibition on speech and expression on the Supreme Court plaza is unreasonable and unnecessary to protect any legitimate governmental interest with respect to the Court or its proceedings. On June 12, District Court Judge Beryl L. Howell struck down the federal law, declaring that the “the absolute prohibition on expressive activity [on the Supreme Court plaza] in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad, and irreconcilable with the First Amendment.” On June 13, the Supreme Court marshal issued new regulations reimposing limits on expressive activities on its grounds.

Affiliate attorney Jeffrey Light is assisting The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Hodge.


Case History

04-19-2016: Rutherford Institute Pushes Back Against Government Efforts to Muzzle Free Speech & Establish a 'Cordon of Silence' in Front of U.S. Supreme Court

01-06-2016: Free Speech Double Standard: Rutherford Institute Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Declare Unconstitutional Its Own Ban on Expressive Activity on Plaza

11-05-2015: Federal Appeals Court Refuses to Reconsider Decision Upholding 60-Year-Old Ban on Expressive Activity on U.S. Supreme Court Plaza

10-19-2015: Rutherford Institute Asks Appeals Court to Reconsider Its Decision to Uphold 60-Year-Old Ban on Expressive Activity on U.S. Supreme Court Plaza

08-28-2015: First Amendment Setback: Federal Appeals Court Upholds 60-Year-old Ban on Expressive Activity on U.S. Supreme Court Plaza as 'Reasonable'

09-23-2014: Rutherford Institute Attorneys Present Oral Arguments in Hodge Case, Challenging Ban on Expressive Activity on U.S. Supreme Court Plaza

01-21-2014: Rutherford Institute Asks Appeals Court to Affirm Ruling that Ban on Expressive Activity on Supreme Court Plaza Is Unconstitutional

06-14-2013: In an Attempt to Override a Federal Court Ruling Permitting Expressive Activities on Plaza, Supreme Court Outlaws Expressive Activities

06-12-2013: Victory: Declaring Ban 'Repugnant' to Constitution, Federal Court Affirms First Amdt. Rights of Protester Arrested in Front of U.S. Supreme Court

04-26-2013: Oral Argument: Rutherford Institute Calls on Court to Protect First Amendment Rights of Man Arrested for Anti-Police Sign in Front of Supreme Court

FURTHER READING:
Has the First Amendment Become an Exercise in Futility?

Donate

Copyright 2021 © The Rutherford Institute • Post Office Box 7482 • Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482 (434) 978-3888
The Rutherford Institute is a registered 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are fully deductible as a charitable contribution.