WASHINGTON, DC — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to argue against a 60-year old federal ban which broadly 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. In challenging the ban on expressive activity as facially unconstitutional, Institute attorneys pointed to the lower court ruling in Hodge v. Talkin, et al., in which District Court Judge Beryl L. Howell struck down the law, declaring it to be “repugnant” to the Constitution and “unreasonable, substantially overbroad, and irreconcilable with the First Amendment.” Rutherford Institute attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of Harold Hodge, who was arrested while standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a snowy day wearing a sign voicing his concerns about the government’s disparate treatment of African-Americans and Hispanics. Within days of Judge Howell’s ruling, the marshal for the Supreme Court—with the approval of Chief Justice John Roberts—issued even more strident regulations outlawing expressive activity on the grounds of the high court, including the plaza. Rutherford Institute attorneys have since filed a related lawsuit challenging the Supreme Court’s more strident regulations.
“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.” The plaza is a place where the public is allowed to gather and converse and is in all relevant respects like a public square or park where citizens have traditionally met to express their views on matters of public interest. However, Hodge was approached by a police officer who informed him that he was violating the law 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.
Affiliate attorney Jeffrey Light is assisting The Rutherford Institute by representing Hodge in the appeal.