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Context of 'February 20, 1997: Supreme Court Affirms Right of Anti-Abortion Protesters to Confront Patients, Medical Personnel'

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In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court rules that anti-abortion demonstrators have the right under the First Amendment to confront pregnant women outside health clinics and “strongly urge” them not to have abortions. The decision casts doubt on an array of city ordinances and judicial orders barring protesters from confronting doctors, nurses, and patients outside clinics. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, rules that there is no “generalized right to be left alone on a public street or sidewalk.” Rather, picketing, leafleting, and loud protesting “are classic forms of speech that lie at the heart of the First Amendment.” The Court affirms that protesters have no right to physically accost or interfere with clients or providers, nor may they trespass on clinic property. They do have the right to shout and chant on public property such as sidewalks. The ruling also reaffirms a 1994 decision that created protest-free zones, sometimes called “fixed bufffer zones,” at the doors and driveways of health clinics. [Los Angeles Times, 2/20/1997]

Entity Tags: William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Bush presidential campaign’s challenge on constitutional grounds of Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on selective manual recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The case is Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board. Throngs of protesters surround the Supreme Court building. Inside, the justices’ questions indicate that they are divided on the legality of the Florida high court’s intervention, and some justices seem to think that Florida courts should resolve the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy says, “We’re looking for a federal issue.” Justice Stephen Breyer asks, “What’s the consequence of our going one way or the other now in this case?” Observers will later describe Laurence Tribe, an experienced Supreme Court litigator representing the Gore campaign, as listless and flat, while Theodore Olson, arguing the Bush campaign’s case, is “more impressive.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia give the impression that they believe the Florida Supreme Court encroached on the Florida legislature’s bailiwick. Justices Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) express their irritation with the Gore arguments. When the arguments are over, the justices meet in chambers for the usual conference. At one end of the argument is Scalia, who wants to overturn the Florida decision and in essence award George W. Bush the election, and at the other, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wants the Court to stay out of the case altogether. Neither justice can command a majority among the other seven. Rehnquist begins drafting a ruling asking the Florida high court to clarify its ruling, to cite the state constitution in its decision (which the Bush team had argued would have been improper), or under state law (which the Bush team had found arguably permissible). All nine justices eventually sign onto Rehnquist’s opinion. A 2004 Vanity Fair article will observe: “The unanimity was, in fact, a charade; four of the justices had no beef at all with the Florida Supreme Court, while at least four others were determined to overturn it. But this way each side could claim victory: the liberal-to-moderate justices had spared the Court a divisive and embarrassing vote on the merits, one they’d probably have lost anyway. As for the conservatives, by eating up Gore’s clock—Gore’s lawyers had conceded that everything had to be resolved by December 12—they had all but killed his chances to prevail, and without looking needlessly partisan in the process. With the chastened Florida court unlikely to intervene again, the election could now stagger to a close, with the Court’s reputation intact, and with Bush all but certain to win.” On December 4, in a setback for the Gore campaign, the Court unanimously sets aside the Florida Supreme Court ruling and remands for clarification the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. [Supreme Court of the United States, 12/4/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Florida Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, US Supreme Court, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Laurence Tribe, John Paul Stevens, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Vanity Fair, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (see September 26, 1986), 80, dies after a ten-month battle with thyroid cancer. He will be replaced by John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), who formerly clerked for him. Rehnquist’s term as Chief Justice marked a “sea change” in the direction of the Court. Former Clinton solicitor general Walter Dellinger says: “It is quite clear that there are three dominant chief justices of American history, and they are John Marshall, Earl Warren, and William H. Rehnquist. I think that there’s just no question that he’s of enormous historical importance.” Conservative law professor and former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, says that Rehnquist presided over a “sea change” in the Court, taking it sharply to the right. [National Public Radio, 7/20/2005; Legal Times, 9/5/2005; Dean, 2007, pp. 129-137]

Entity Tags: William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Walter Dellinger, John G. Roberts, Jr, Douglas Kmiec, John Marshall, Earl Warren

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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