January 10, 2013
First Circuit Rejects First Amendment Challenge to Clinic Buffer Zone
In its opinion in McCullen v. Coakley, the First Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts statute creating a fixed thirty-five-foot buffer zone around the entrances, exits, and driveways of abortion clinics. The court had previously upheld a facial challenge. In this as-applied challenge, the First Circuit again rejected the challenge, affirming the district court.
The 32 page opinion, written by Judge Bruce Seyla, a Reagan appointee recognized for his "linguistic talent," is noteworthy for its vocabulary. For example, Seyla writes that the plaintiffs "advance a salmagundi of arguments, old and new, some of which are couched in a creative recalibration of First Amendment principles."
The major argument, however, is that First Amendment has shifted after the Supreme Court's decisions in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011); Snyder v. Phelps (2011); and Citizens United v. FEC (2010). Judge Seyla concluded that the plaintiffs'
impressionistic argument, though ingenious, elevates hope over reason. The propositions for which the plaintiffs cite those cases are no more than conventional First Amendment principles recited by the Supreme Court in the context of factual scenarios far different than the scenario at issue here.
Not surprisingly, the opinion rejected the plaintiffs' "Rumpelstiltskin-like effort to turn straw into gold." The court concluded that the "Massachusetts statute at issue here is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time- place-manner regulation that protects the rights of prospective patients and clinic employees without offending the First Amendment rights of others."
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