On June 26, 2014, the Supreme Court issued its decision in McCullen v. Coakley. This case involved the constitutionality of Massachusetts’s law regarding speech within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. The law makes it a crime for speakers other than clinic employees to “enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk” within thirty-five feet of an entrance, exit, or driveway of an abortion clinic.” The questions are first whether the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on its face and as applied to petitioners; and second, whether, if Hill v. Colorado permits enforcement of this law, Hill should be limited or overruled.
The Chief Justice delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that the Massachusetts law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court found that the law was content neutral but not narrowly tailored to further the government’s legitimate interests. While Massachusetts has a legitimate interest in protecting public safety, patient access to healthcare, and unobstructed use of public sidewalks and streets, the law burdened more speech than necessary to achieve these interests. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined the opinion of the Court. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, which Justices Kennedy and Thomas joined. Justice Alito filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. The decision of the First Circuit was reversed.
To discuss the case, we have Mr. Erik S. Jaffe, Law Office of Erik S. Jaffe, P.C. and Prof. Richard W. Garnett, IV, Professor of Law & Concurrent Professor of Political Science, Founding Director, Program on Church, State & Society, University of Notre Dame Law School.