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A federal appeals court in San Francisco rules that anti-abortion organizations who engage in the practice of distributing posters targeting abortion providers (see 1995 and After) are illegally threatening the lives and well-being of the people they are targeting. The 6-5 verdict also rules that Web sites such as The Nuremberg Files (see January 1997), which list doctors’ names and addresses and “lines out” the names of those doctors who are murdered, also threaten the lives of the named doctors. The defendants unsuccessfully claimed they were engaging in constitutionally protected political advocacy; the plaintiffs—four doctors and two health clinics—argued that the speech in question encouraged violence against abortion providers. The verdict overturns a previous three-judge ruling by the same court and reinstates a $109 million award for the plaintiffs. Writing for the majority, Judge Pamela Ann Rymer states: “While advocating violence is protected, threatening a person with violence is not.… This is not political hyperbole. They were a true threat.” Maria Vullo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, says the essence of the decision is rejection of threatening speech. Of the “political advocacy” practiced by the defendants, Vullo says, “It’s really terrorism.” Christopher Ferrara, a lawyer for the defendants, says his clients will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. “This is a threat case without any identifiable threat,” he says. “We’re found liable for the format we chose.” (Liptak 5/17/2002) In spite of the verdict, the practice will continue (see January - April 2003, Fall 2009, and September 13, 2010).
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