Supreme Court Rules for Abortion Protestors

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that federal extortion and racketeering laws meant for organized crime groups cannot be used against anti-abortion protesters.

The 8-0 decision on Tuesday ends a case kept alive by the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, which held that that the laws could be used despite a 2003 Supreme Court decision that lifted an injunction on pro-life defendants in the suit.

“This is a major victory for the pro-life community and removes a cloud that has been hanging over pro-life demonstrators for years,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, who was also listed as the Counsel of Record.

The case has been through various twists and turns of litigation throughout the past 19 years. The two previous hearings before the high court, in 1998 and 2003, reached divergent conclusions. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled against the abortion protesters, saying they could be tried under laws. However that decision was vacated in 2003.

In the most recent appeal, abortion rights plaintiff, the National Organization for Women (NOW) had argued that there were some cases of violence which were not specifically addressed by the 2003 court decision.

The group had invoked the Federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws to prosecute the pro-life groups. The specific law used was an extortion law known as the Hobbs Act.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion, said that Congress addressed the issue of violence outside the Hobbs Act by passing a separate law specifically addressing abortion protesters when it passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

In the 2003 decision, the Supreme Court had stated that the extortion law could not be used against the protesters because they had not illegally “obtained property” from the women entering clinics for abortions.

Recently appointed Associate Justice Samuel Alito did not render an opinion. He was not yet on the Court when the case was argued in November.

The cases heard together were Scheidler v. NOW and Operation Rescue v. NOW.