By FREDERIC J. FROMMER
WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court has come up with a new regulation banning demonstrations on its grounds, two days after a broader anti-demonstration law was declared unconstitutional.
The regulation bans activities on the court’s grounds or building such as picketing, speech-making, marching, vigils or religious services “that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers.”
It says that “casual use by visitors or tourists” that isn’t likely to attract a crowd is not banned. That may be a way of addressing the concern posed by a federal judge who threw out the law barring processions and expressive banners on the court’s grounds.
In her ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said that law was so broad it could criminalize preschool students parading on their first field trip to the high court. She also wrote that the marshal of the Supreme Court “has the authority to prescribe necessary regulations to govern the plaza,” which is what the marshal did Thursday.
Howell was ruling in a challenge brought by Harold Hodge Jr., who was arrested on the Supreme Court plaza in January 2011 while wearing a sign that criticized police treatment of blacks and Hispanics.
He was given a citation for violating a law that makes it a crime to “parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages,” or to display a “flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement,” at the high court’s building or grounds.
The new regulation can be found on the Supreme Court website, on the page marked, “Building Regulations,” with a note that they have been “prescribed by the Marshal and approved by the Chief Justice of the United States.”
John Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute, which successfully challenged the law on Hodge’s behalf, called the new regulation “repugnant” to the Constitution.
“It almost to me seems to be directed at people like Harold Hodge, if you communicate a message,” Whitehead said. “If you believe in free speech, the First Amendment’s really clear: You have a right to petition your government peacefully to redress grievances.”
Whitehead said there are solutions short of what the court came up with Thursday, such as creating a “free speech zone” on the plaza.
“Doing away with all of it – I don’t understand what they’re doing,” he said. “Harold Hodge still can’t go out there with his sign.”
“We’re going to go after it,” Whitehead added. “We’re going to do what we can to challenge it. We’re researching it right now.” Hodge has said he plans to return to the plaza and picket, hand out leaflets, sing, chant and make speeches. If he were to be arrested again, Whitehead said, his group would fight it.
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court declined comment.