In Which I both Agree and Disagree

…with a Supreme Court decision. In Mccullen v Coakley, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that placed a mandatory 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinics within which anti-abortion protests were prohibited. The purpose of the law, to allow women wishing an abortion unfettered access to the clinic, was met, but overbroadly, according to the court.

That’s the part with which I agree. If we’re going to argue as I have in the past that “free speech zones,” like those on too many college campuses, unconstitutionally restrict free speech, then so does the other side of that coin: non-free speech zones. Either we have free speech in this country, or we do not.

But Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court, displayed a sad misunderstanding of that right of free speech. In his rationale for striking Massachusetts’ law, Roberts wrote

McCullen explained that she often cannot distinguish patients from passersby outside the Boston clinic in time to initiate a conversation before they enter the buffer zone.

And [emphasis added]

As explained, because petitioners in Boston cannot readily identify patients before they enter the zone, they often cannot approach them in time to place literature near their hands….

But this ignores the other person’s (here, the woman seeking the abortion) free speech right to choose what conversation she will hear, especially when that unwanted conversation is directed at her and not, from the public square, to no one in particular (and so equally to everyone). Roberts’ thesis also ignores the intended recipient’s free speech right not to have materials pressed on her without her prior consent.

I disagree with Roberts’ rationale.

In the end, an opinion founded on bad law is itself a bad opinion, even if it reaches the right conclusion.

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