WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has come up with a new regulation banning demonstrations on its grounds, two days after a broader anti-demonstration law was declared unconstitutional.
The regulation bans activities on the court’s grounds or building such as picketing, speech-making, marching, vigils or religious services “that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers.”
It says that “casual use by visitors or tourists” that isn’t likely to attract a crowd is not banned. That may be a way of addressing the concern posed by a federal judge who threw out the law barring processions and expressive banners on the court’s grounds.
In her ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said that law was so broad it could criminalize preschool students parading on their first field trip to the high court. She also wrote that the marshal of the Supreme Court “has the authority to prescribe necessary regulations to govern the plaza,” which is what the marshal did Thursday.
Howell was ruling in a challenge brought by Harold Hodge Jr., who was arrested on the Supreme Court plaza in January 2011 while wearing a sign that criticized police treatment of blacks and Hispanics.
He was given a citation for violating a law that makes it a crime to “parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages,” or to display a “flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement,” at the high court’s building or grounds.
John Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute, which successfully challenged the law on Hodge’s behalf, called the new regulation “repugnant” to the Constitution.
“It almost to me seems to be directed at people like Harold Hodge, if you communicate a message,” Whitehead said. “If you believe in free speech, the First Amendment’s really clear: You have a right to petition your government peacefully to redress grievances.”