Supreme Court Hears Free Speech Case
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral argument in McCullen v. Coakley, a case coming out of Massachusetts that questions the constitutionality of “buffer zones” around abortion clinics.
In 2009, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law that instituted a 35-foot protester-free area around the driveways and entranceways of clinics that perform abortions. Such legislation protects the safety of the clinic workers and their patients, because these sites are typically targets of anti-choice (and sometimes pro-choice) rallies. In other circumstances, protesters outside these reproductive health care facilities gather to chant, hold signs and shout at the people entering and exiting the building, amounting to harassment; some protestors actively attempt to dissuade women from having an abortion, such as the petitioners in this case.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the law enacting these protestor-free zones is constitutional because although it places restrictions on the time, manner and place of the speech, the restrictions are neutral in regards to content, and permits alternate forms of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled on this matter: they held in Hill v. Colorado (2000) that buffer zones of 100 feet were constitutional.
The Court will consider whether the Massachusetts law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and if the precedent set in Hill v. Colorado applies to this case—and if so, whether the ruling in Hill should be limited or upheld.
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