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Breyer Stands His Ground on Buffer Zones, Mostly

Justice Stephen Breyer may look like former Justice David Souter, but they seen to have a difference of opinion when it comes to the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of assembly.

In 2011 and 2014, Justice Breyer voted with the majority of justices in allowing the Westboro Baptist Church (8-1) and anti-abortion activists (9-0) to display hateful messages near military funerals and abortion clinics, respectively.

Also last year, former Justice Souter, sitting on a First Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Thayer v. City of Worcester, sided with the city in saying that its buffer zone law, aimed at preventing aggressive panhandling, was constitutional.

The Supreme Court declined to hear Thayer this term but could pick it up again in OT15.

What they seem to agree on, though, is maintaining the buffer zone around the Supreme Court. It’s currently illegal to demonstrate on the spacious plaza in front of the building on One First Street, leaving those looking to voice their opinions on the various cases before the court to fight for space on the front sidewalk.

Whether or not Souter’s pro-buffer zone views prevail at SCOTUS in the coming months, the no-protest zone at the building is likely to remain, much to our chagrin.

Fix the Court believes that the justices, in the interest of being consistent with the First Amendment, should not prevent the public from congregating on the spacious plaza in front of the building – and they can allow such demonstrations without compromising their safety.

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