The Supreme Court is designated as the ultimate protector of constitutional rights, but the guarantee of protest and free speech ends on the steps to the plaza in front of the court’s grand marble temple, a unanimous federal appeals court panel ruled Friday.
Demonstrators are allowed on the sidewalk in front of the court but not any closer to the famous portico promising “Equal Justice Under Law,” three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided.
The fight over where protesters get to protest has been going on for years.
The appeals court judges upheld a 1949 law that forbids demonstrations on the grounds of the high court, on the premise that protests at the court’s doorstep might lead to the perception that the justices are swayed by vox populi rather than the dictates of the law.
“Allowing demonstrations directed at the Court, on the Court’s own front terrace, would tend to yield the opposite impression: that of a Court engaged with — and potentially vulnerable to — outside entreaties by the public,”wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, who argued often before the court as a lawyer and is sometimes mentioned as a future Supreme Court justice.