TRI In The News
SCOTUS confirms its ‘safe space’
In 1949, Congress placed a ban on organized protests and signs on the marble plaza in front of the Supreme Court.
The law in question, 40 U.S.C. § 635: U.S. Code – Section 6135: Parades, assemblages, and display of flags in the Supreme Court Building and grounds, reads:
It is unlawful to parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages in the Supreme Court Building or grounds, or to display in the Building and grounds a flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement.
That same year, 1949,the Supreme Court ruled in Terminiello v. City of Chicago that:
The vitality of civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion… It is only through free debate and free exchange of ideas that government remains responsive to the will of the people and peaceful change is effected. The right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is therefore one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes. – Justice William O. Douglas
In January 2011 Harold Hodge, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested after he stood quietly on the Supreme Court plaza wearing a 3-by-2 foot sign around his neck that read, “The US Gov. Allows Police to Illegally Murder and Brutalize African Americans and Hispanic People.”
Hodge was standing there by himself on a snowy day when he was arrested, according to John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, which represented Hodge in the suit challenging the ban.
Hodge was offered a deal to have the charges dropped in exchange for a promise to not “demonstrate” on the plaza. Instead, he chose to fight the law.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell struck down the restrictions. In her opinion, Howell wrote:
It cannot possibly be consistent with the First Amendment for the government to so broadly prohibit expression in virtually any form in front of a courthouse, even the Supreme Court.
The next day, the marshal for the Supreme Court – in defiance of the appeals court and with Chief Justice John Roberts’ approval – issued even stronger regulations to prevent free expression on the grounds of the Supreme Court.
In 2015 a unanimous appeals court overturned that ruling and upheld the constitutionality of the ban. The court wrote:
Allowing demonstrations directed at the Court, on the Court’s own front terrace, would tend to yield the opposite impression: that of a Court engaged with — and potentially vulnerable to — outside entreaties by the public.
Translation: Supreme Court justices need a “safe space” from which to hand down their high and mighty rulings that neuter the Constitution and destroy the rule of law. The 1st Amendment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on because “great legal minds” may be swayed by the pitchfork-wielding town rabble.