Supreme Court Can Now Ban Protesters At Front Plaza

The Supreme Court can now restrict protesters from holding a demonstration on the marble plaza, according to a unanimous ruling by the federal appeals court on Friday, the Washington Post reports.

The three-judge panel said that the federal prohibition has been approved because protests held right on the doorsteps of the Supreme Court may lead to the perception that judges can be easily swayed by public opinion.

The judges said that protesters can still stage demonstrations on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court.

In his decision Friday, Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote his reasons for the ruling.

“A line must be drawn somewhere along the route from the street to the court’s front entrance. Among the options, it is fully reasonable for that line to be fixed at the point one leaves the concrete public sidewalk and enters the marble steps to the court’s plaza.”

The 80-by-30-meter oval marble plaza has fountains, benches, flagpoles, and steps leading to the court’s front doors, and was often used by lawyers to answer questions from the media after each major court session has been concluded.

In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling that prohibits demonstrators from stepping on the sidewalk surrounding the establishment. The ruling, however, didn’t make clear whether the protests can be held on the plaza, which lies just beneath the famous portico with the words “Equal Justice Under Law” engraved on it.

The court case came into fruition when the law’s constitutionality was challenged by Harold Hodge Jr., a student arrested in 2011 after protesting the police treatment of blacks and Hispanics by wearing a sign that reads, “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People.”

Rutherford Insitute, a nonprofit liberties group that represented Hodge, criticized the Supreme Court ruling.

“If citizens cannot stand out in the open and voice their disapproval of their government, its representatives and its policies without fearing prosecution, then the First Amendment is little more than window-dressing on a store window — pretty to look at but serving little real purpose. Through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom.”

But Srinivasan pointed out that the plaza is integrated with the building itself, which makes it an extension of the Supreme Court and thus a nonpublic forum. The Judge also quoted Justice Stephen Breyer who described the plaza “as the opening stage of ‘a carefully choreographed, climbing path that ultimately ends at the courtroom itself.”

The two other judges in the Supreme Court ruling were Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson and Senior Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams.

[Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images]