In what was a surprising decision to many court observers, a unanimous 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision July 2nd, and affirmed the Constitutional rights of pro-life activists to display large graphic photos of aborted babies on public streets adjacent to Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The case involved police detention for 75 minutes of two pro-life activists belonging to the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. (CBR), a California-based, pro-life organization, who had been driving a 7-by-20 foot truck with photos of first term aborted babies on three sides.
School officials and the LA County Sheriff’s Department claimed display of the photos were “disruptive,” in violation of a California statute. The Ninth Circuit ruled that deputy sheriffs violated the demonstrators’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable police searches and seizures.
The opinion written by Judge Harry Pregerson and supported by Judges William A. Fletcher and Marsha S. Berzon, all considered liberals, stated that “[T]he government cannot silence messages simply because they cause discomfort, fear, or even anger.” (Click here to read the entire opinion.)
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, brought the case on behalf of CBR. The mobile billboard truck is part CBR’s effort to expose as many people as possible to the horrors and realities of abortion.
Robert Muise, trial counsel for the Law Center who handled the case, commented on the ruling, “This is a tremendous victory for the First Amendment and the pro-life movement. The Ninth Circuit’s decision affirms that there is no double standard for pro-life speech under our Constitution. In its ruling, the Court upheld the fundamental principle of the First Amendment that government officials cannot prohibit silent, peaceful, non-obstructive, political speech on the public streets, a traditional public forum, because certain listeners or viewers find the speech offensive.”
The Thomas More Law Center is widely recognized as the most aggressive pro-life public interest law firm in the nation. It has represented CBR in several lawsuits across the country, the American Life League’s program to distribute pro-life t-shirts to public school students, as well as participated in several citizen initiatives to enact Human Life Amendments in state constitutions.