DC Circuit, Citing “My Cousin Vinny,” Holds @99Rise Campaign Finance Protesters at #SCOTUS Can Be Charged Under Law Barring “Harangues or Orations”

Tony Mauro for the NLJ:

A federal appeals panel on Friday upheld the law barring anyone from making “a harangue or oration” at the U.S. Supreme Court—the latest in a series of rulings protecting the high court from protesters inside the building or on its grounds.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit stemmed from a coordinated protest that interrupted a public session of the Supreme Court on April 1, 2015. One after another, five demonstrators rose to object, through slogans and songs, to the court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling on campaign finance.

The five were arrested for violating 40 U.S.C. § 6134, the “harangue or oration” statute. The protesters moved to dismiss the charges, and a federal district judge ruled that the law was too vague.

The episode was also notable because during discovery, the court’s audiotape of the protest was produced, containing some “hot mic” comments from justices while the demonstrators spoke. “Give them stiff, stiff sentences,” Justice Antonin Scalia muttered. “Oh, please,” Chief Justice Roberts Jr. said as the protest wore on.

From the opinion:

Turning to the facts here, a person of ordinary intelligence could read this law and understand that, as a member of the Supreme Court’s oral argument audience, making disruptive public speeches is clearly proscribed behavior—even in staccato bursts, seriatim. And yet, in a coordinated fashion, each Appellee is alleged to have directed a variation of the same message to the Justices of the Supreme Court and the assembled audience. Their coordinated standing, facing the bench, and messaging indicate the Appellees were addressing the Court and gallery. Cf. MY COUSIN VINNY (20th Century Fox 1992) (Judge Chamberlain Haller: “Don’t talk to me sitting in that chair! . . . When you’re addressing this court, you’ll rise and speak to me in a clear, intelligible voice.”). Viewed objectively, these alleged acts could easily be considered speeches to a public assembly that tended to disrupt the Court’s operations—conduct covered by § 6134’s prohibition of “make a harangue or oration.”



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