Briefs Recently Filed
The Court will decide in McCullen v. Coakley whether a Massachusetts statute prohibiting speech within 35-feet of a reproductive health care facility violates the First Amendment.
Massachusetts law initially allowed protesters to come within six feet of those entering a clinic within an 18-foot buffer zone around the clinic. Protesters would crowd six feet from a clinic door making entry into the clinic difficult and intimidating. So in 2007 Massachusetts adopted a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around clinics. The First Circuit held that this statute is a constitutional time, place, and manner regulation of speech because numerous communication channels remain available to protesters.
Buffer zones are very common. The SLLC’s brief points out that how the Court rules in this case could affect state and local government’s ability to regulate speech to protect public safety in many contexts. For example, lower courts have upheld buffer zones to prevent congestion at special events and places that regularly draw crowds and near funerals to protect vulnerable mourners. These buffer zones and many others may be in jeopardy if the Court rules against Massachusetts.
Mary Jean Dolan, International Municipal Lawyers Association Special Counsel, wrote the SLLC’s brief which was joined by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.
The issue in Sprint Communications Company v. Jacobs is whether federal courts should abstain from deciding a case when there is a related state proceeding that is “remedial” not “coercive.”
Sprint refused to pay intrastate access charges to an Iowa communications company for a service and filed a complaint with the Iowa Utility Board (IUB) seeking a declaration that it was under no obligation to do so. The IUB ordered Sprint to pay, and Sprint challenged the IUB’s decision in federal and state courts simultaneously. Applying the Younger abstention doctrine, the Eighth Circuit ruled that the federal district court should not hear the case, if at all, until the state court review of the IUB decision was complete. The Supreme Court will decide whether it matters for the purposes of abstention that Sprint initially asked the IUB for approval—a remedial proceeding—or if Younger abstention only applies where the state brings a party before a state court or administrative board in a coercive proceeding.
The SLLC’s brief argues what should matter in determining whether Younger abstention applies is the strength of the state interest in the proceeding not the label of “remedial” or “coercive.” And the integrity of the judicial process is maintained by state courts being allowed to resolve issues initiated before them that directly affect state and local government.
Kira Klatchko and Irene Zurko of Best, Best & Krieger LLP wrote the SLLC’s brief which the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association signed onto.