Monday, March 22, 2010

Supreme Court Declines to Review Massachusetts Abortion Clinic Free Speech Case

Today the Supreme Court declined to review a decision upholding a Massachusetts law that limited protests and other speech activity within 35 feet of all abortion clinics in the state.  The case presented an opportunity to apply and perhaps revisit Hill v. Colorado, a 2000 decision upholding a statute limiting speech near health clinics.

Hill and other abortion clinic protest cases examined the constitutoinality of imposing statutory or injunctive buffers and personal space bubbles around clinic properties and patrons.  Aspects of these decisions, in particular the ruling in Hill, have been criticized by commentators across the ideological spectrum.  Several law professors, including Rick Garnett and Eugene Volokh, filed an amicus brief urging the Court to take the case.  (I was asked to sign but was unfortunately traveling as the brief was being drafted and reviewed.)

The Massachusetts law appears to be especially restrictive.  Protesters claim that it essentially denies them any meaningful opportunity to engage in counseling and other speech activity near abortion clinics.  Although it singles out speech near abortion clinics rather than health facilities in general, and appears to permit certain speech by staff and perhaps supporters of clinic patrons, the Commonwealth successfully defened the law as a valid time, place, and manner regulation.

The case is McCullen v. Coakley.  The cert. petition is here.   


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