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McCullen v. Coakley

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 26, 2014
Case #: 12-1168
Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Kennedy and Thomas, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1168_6k47.pdf

Constitutional Law: Banning the presence of all but an exempt few from the area around the entrances to reproductive health facilities unconstitutionally burdens the public's First Amendment rights.

Petitioners are anti-abortion advocates who engage in “sidewalk counseling” with women entering abortion clinics. A Massachusetts law now criminalizes knowingly standing on public property within thirty-five feet of an entrance or driveway to any place other than a hospital where abortions are performed. This law has displaced Petitioners and other advocates. They challenged the constitutionality of the law under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law as a content-neutral time, place, or manner restriction.

The Court today turns to the Ward v. Rock Against Racism test to determine whether the Massachusetts buffer-zone is constitutional. In accordance with the first prong of that test, the Court finds that the law is content-neutral, both on its face and as applied to Petitioners. However, the law is not narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.

No one challenges the significance of the interest served here, but the Court finds that the law burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to serve that interest. There are several less burdensome options available to Massachusetts that serve the same governmental interests in public safety, patient access to healthcare, and the unobstructed use of public sidewalks and roadways. The Court mentions several existing laws that target those behaviors directly instead of placing a blanket ban on a person’s presence on a public thoroughfare.