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

Posted: November 6, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.56.09 AMWASHINGTON, DC — A federal appeals court has summarily rejected a request that it reconsider its ruling that a 60-year old federal statute criminalizing expressive First Amendment activity on the Supreme Court plaza is “reasonable” and does not violate the First Amendment, setting up an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied without explanation a petition for rehearing filed by The Rutherford Institute in Hodge v. Talkin, in which Institute attorneys pointed out that the ruling by a three-judge panel of the Court upholding the ban on speech on the plaza conflicts with earlier decisions construing a nearly-identical statute. The panel decision reversed a lower court decision finding the ban 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 activist 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.

“Through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering the First Amendment with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Ironically, when we appeal this case, it will be the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who will eventually be asked to decide the constitutionality of their own statute, yet they have already made their views on the subject quite clear.”

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 handcuffed, placed under arrest, and then transported to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters for violating 40 U.S.C. § 6135, 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, thereby banning expressive activity on the Supreme Court plaza. Rutherford Institute attorneys subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging § 6135, and in June 2013 a district court judge struck down the law finding it “plainly unconstitutional on its face.” In response, the government not only appealed that ruling, but 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.

Affiliate attorney Jeffrey Light is assisting The Rutherford Institute with Hodge.

 

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