Outrage of the Week: presidents get buffer zones; women don't
Now for our other regular feature, it's the Outrage of the Week and yet once again, the source of the outrage is that bastion of bone-headedness, the US Supreme Court.
But this is a special week because this time it's not the foul five, the maleficent majority, that are the dimwits and doofuses, it's the whole damn lot of them.
I will tell you too, that this was delayed because I wanted to talk about it last week but the calendar demanded otherwise. So this is actually not from this past week, but it's too important to let pass.
The story begins on May 27, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Secret Service agents cannot be held liable for violating the constitutional rights of protesters. They are, in essence, above the law and the Constitution.
That was the effective meaning of a decision involving a protest against then-President George Bush in 2004.
Bush was making a campaign stop in in Jacksonville, Oregon and unexpectedly decided to eat outside on the patio of the restaurant. Two groups of protesters, one pro- and one anti-, had assigned areas for protest and were in those areas. But when Bush decided to eat outside, the 200-300 anti-Bush protesters were a half-block away and could be heard where Bush was. So the Secret Service told the police to force that group two blocks away while the pro-Bush crowd could stay where it was, a block closer.
Seven of the protesters sued, claiming viewpoint discrimination. Lower courts agreed - but Johnny Roberts and the Supremes did not, saying the two agents who issued the order were immune from a lawsuit because they had good reason to move the protesters farther away.
And what was that good reason? Writing for the majority, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose concern for civil rights now seems to start and stop at contraception, said it was that the anti-Bush crowd was - and this is an exact quote - "within weapons range." You know, because one of them might have had an Uzi under their coat or they might have gone to the rally with a grenade in their back pocket just in case Bush might suddenly decide to eat outdoors.
Getting back to Ginsburg, she wrote that "Given that situation, the protesters cannot plausibly urge that the agents had no valid security reason to request or order their eviction."
Yes, they can. They can because, as Steven Wilker of the ACLU, who acted as attorney for the protesters, noted, this was just one of more than a dozen incidents in which the Secret Service singled out for removal from a Bush event someone expressing opposition to Bush, even if the "threat" consisted of nothing more than a slogan on a t-shirt. The Court ignored that history in order to find that the Secret Service can, without needing anything to back it up, without needing to have any articulable reason, simply assume that anyone expressing opposition to a president's policies is for that reason alone a physical threat and force them to leave the area.
So says the Supreme Court.
But what really make this outrageous, what really makes it the Outrage of the Week, is that a month later, on June 26, this same Supreme Court, this same unanimous Supreme Court, ruled that a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances to abortion clinics in the state was an intolerable and unconstitutional affront to the First Amendment. For presidents, two blocks is entirely reasonable; for women, 35 feet is way too far.
Why? Because, in the words of Johnny R., "Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks." It's all about, as described by the lead plaintiff in the case, one Eleanor McCullen, "gentle and loving conversations."
Right. So how gentle and loving were the conversations that happened before this law was passed in 2007? Under an earlier law from 2000, the state established a "floating buffer zone" that barred people from approaching unwilling listeners any closer than 6 feet if they were within 18 feet of the clinic. If you think that's complicated and confusing when you try to apply it to a real-life situation, you're right.
Under that law, according to an ACLU friend-of-the-court brief, antiabortion protesters blocked entrances, surrounded arriving cars, intimidated and harassed arriving patients, and even assaulted patients and staff. Patients and their escorts were subjected to a barrage of harassment, verbal and sometimes physical, with one clinic staff member recalling how a protester pushed her into a moving car entering the facility.
Most of these incidents occurred around Boston and the Boston police found that the floating buffer zone was a failure, difficult to monitor and almost impossible to enforce.
None of that, none of that history, none of that reality, mattered to the numbskull nine.
In the Bush protest case, the decision supposedly came down to the idea that presidents must be protected at all costs, including, apparently, at the cost of the Constitution. As Roberts said during oral argument, "There are people out there who want to kill the president."
And there's no one who wants to kill people working in abortion clinics? The shootings, the firebombings, the assaults, none of this ever happened? The shouting, the screeching, the pushing, the spitting, the threats, none of that happened?
A two-block buffer zone, in effect, around the president goes without saying. A 35-foot buffer zone to protect women seeking abortions is an assault on free speech.
On top of everything else, to - in a great old saying - cap the climax, the Supreme Court has its own buffer zone, a buffer zone far larger than that afforded to protect the clients of abortion clinics: A 1949 federal law bars protests of any sort from the white marble plaza of the Supreme Court building.
In fact, until 1983, you couldn't even protest on the public sidewalk surrounding the building.
Which points up what's really going on here: This is not about protecting either the president or free speech: It's about protecting the powerful from being annoyed by the hoi polloi. That's why presidents can be shielded from seeing dissenters, that's why the Supreme Court can say "not on our turf," while women seeking a medical procedure can be forced to run a gauntlet of hatred.
It is foul, it is disgusting, it is an outrage.
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