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Irony Abounds: Free Speech Rights Curbed on Supreme Court Grounds

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 19, 2011 4:02 PM

The spirit of dissent swept continued to sweep D.C. on Sunday as 19 protesters, including Princeton professor Cornel West, were arrested for demonstrating on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

West had attended the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall before joining the Stop the Machine protest in Freedom Plaza. After speaking before the crowd, West led a march to the Court to protest "the Supreme Court giving too much power to the corporations ... and not holding corporations accountable for their behavior," reports Politico.

Free speech rights, ironically, are restricted on Supreme Court grounds. Under the U.S. Code, a person may not display a sign, parade, stand, or move in processions, or make a harangue or oration on the Supreme Court grounds or building.

A harangue. No kidding.

Mark Goldstone, a National Lawyers Guild attorney acting as an adviser to Stop the Machine, told The Huffington Post that he has already filed a cert petition before the Supreme Court challenging the law prohibiting protests on the steps. The Court, however, may find that Stop the Machine lacks standing: While the group was held overnight before being released Monday afternoon, prosecutors have indicated that they will not press charges in the matter.

Since we strongly support a person’s right to peaceful protest, we’re pleased that prosecutors are not pressing charges against the group. As bloggers, however, we are disappointed.

This case had the potential to be Supreme Court blogging gold, especially if the protesters had appealed their conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. We can already imagine the movie-version of this story. Samuel L. Jackson would play Cornel West, and the trailer would include a clip of Jackson-as-West saying, “We’re going to finish this battle where we started it: at the Supreme Court.”

Just a thought.

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