This should have been obvious, but now it’s the ruling of the Court. Good news
Developing: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Massachusetts law banning abortion-clinic protests within a 35-foot buffer zone violates the First Amendment rights of protesters, SCOTUSblog reports.
The court was unanimous in its judgment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion (PDF) for the court.
An earlier Massachusetts law had established a six-foot “no approach” zone around abortion clinics that barred leaflets, signs and counseling of persons within the zone absent their consent. It was replaced in 2007 with the new law generally barring people from public sidewalks and public ways within 35 feet of abortion clinics. (People entering the clinics, employees, police and people who happened to be walking by were exempted.)
SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein has this analysis: “The upshot of today’s ruling is that an abortion clinic buffer zone is presumptively unconstitutional. Instead, a state has to more narrowly target clinic obstructions. For example, the police can tell protesters to move aside to let a woman through to the clinic. But it cannot prohibit protesters from being on the sidewalks in the first instance. If in practice protesters still are obstructing the entrance, then it can consider a broader restriction.”
From the majority opinion:
But petitioners do not claim a right to trespass on the clinics’ property. They instead claim a right to stand on the public sidewalks by the driveway as cars turn into the parking lot. Before the buffer zones, they could do so. Now they must stand a substantial distance away. The Act alone is responsible for that restriction on their ability to convey their message.
Updated to add the quote. BBN 6/26/2014 10:45 AM