Legal Principle at Issue
Whether an injunction that limits the places where and the manner in which antiabortion protestors may demonstrate violates the First Amendment.
Affirmed and reversed (or vacated) in part. Petitioning party did not receive a favorable disposition.
A Florida state court ordered that antiabortion protestors could not demonstrate within 36 feet of an abortion clinic, make loud noises within earshot of the clinic, display images observable from the clinic, approach patients within 300 feet of the clinic, and demonstrate within 300 feet of the residence of any clinic employee. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the injunction in its entirety.
When speech in a public forum is prohibited because of its content, the state must be able to demonstrate that the regulation is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental issue. Perry Education Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U.S. 37 (1983). If the regulation is neutral as to the speaker's content, the regulation need only be a reasonable restriction on the time, place, or manner of the speech. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989).
Importance of Case
The Court upheld the restrictions against demonstrating within 36 feet of the clinic (to the extent that the 36-foot buffer did not include private property), making loud noises within earshot of the clinic, and making loud noises within 300 feet of an employee's residence. The Court rejected the prohibitions against displaying images, approaching patients within 300 feet of the clinic, and peacefully picketing within 300 feet of an employee's residence. In reaching its decision, the Court announced a new test for cases in which speech is prohibited by an injunction: the injunction will be upheld unless it burdens more speech than is necessary to serve a significant governmental interest. The dissent argued that this standard was not strict enough. The dissent also claimed that the majority's decision was based on its willingness to proscribe pro-life speech.
The Court allowed a trial judge to enjoin specific speech and conduct without applying a strict scrutiny analysis, that is, without determining that the injunction served a compelling government interest and was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. The new, relaxed test announced by the Court may be problematic, but it also may be, as claimed by the dissent, limited to the abortion context. Two of the Justices voting in dissent, for example (Justices Scalia and Thomas), are not known for their vigorous defense of the First Amendment, and two of the Justices voting in the majority (Justices Souter and Stevens) are generally considered supporters of the First Amendment.