In 2011 and 2014, Chief Justice John Roberts tasked himself with writing the majority opinions in Snyder v. Phelps and McCullen v. Coakley.
In the former, a case decided 8-1 (Justice Alito was the lone dissenter) that allowed the Westboro Baptist Church to post hateful signs at military funerals, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that their demonstrations were legal given that the Westboro protesters “addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner.”
Fair, but when comparing this case to the ban on demonstrating on the court’s front plaza, confusion sets in, since to our knowledge there has never been a non-peaceful protest at the Supreme Court, and all matters discussed there are “of public import.”
In the latter, a 9-0 decision striking down a Massachusetts law permitting buffer zones around abortion clinics, Roberts wrote, “The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve [the state’s] asserted interests.”
Those “interests” are, of course, the safety and well-being of the women walking in and out of the clinic. If Roberts believes no harm will come to those women sans law, why does he believe he needs a buffer zone in front of the court, especially given that the justices themselves use a different entryway on the other side of the building?
While we have grown accustomed to inconsistencies between government officials in different branches (e.g., members of Congress post their annual financial disclosure reports online, and the justices don’t; candidates for President put their assets in a blind trust, and the justices don’t), that there’s an inconsistency between the current court’s First Amendment jurisprudence and their institutional comportment is strange – and unbecoming of the nation’s top jurists.
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.