Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioners, Leila Jeanne Hill, Audrey Himmelmann, and Everitt W. Simpson, Jr., (Petitioners) and several anti-abortion activists filed a complaint to enjoin the state of Colorado and its officials (Respondents) from enforcing a statute that restricts them within a 100-foot radius of any health care facility. The restriction in question prohibits them from coming within eight feet of another person without their consent to pass out leaflets, display signs, or to engage in oral protest or education.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A restriction on an individuals First Amendment constitutional rights will be upheld if it furthers a legitimate state interest, places no restrictions on a particular viewpoint or subject matter and is reasonably and narrowly tailored to limit no more speech than is necessary to achieve the State’s legitimate goal.
Issue. Whether the First Amendment constitutional rights of the speaker are abridged by the protection the statute provides for the unwilling listener?
Held. No. First, it is obvious that the state has legitimate and important concerns which lead to its regulation, in general in this case it is held to be the protection of the health and welfare of its citizens. Next, it is important to note that the Colorado regulation of the location of protests, education and counseling places no restrictions on a particular viewpoint or particular subject matter. Rather it places a minor place restriction on a wide category of communications with unwilling listeners. Furthermore, the eight-foot restriction occurs only within 100 feet of a health care facility where the restriction is most needed. Therefore, as this regulation is content neutral, and reasonably and narrowly tailored to the situation, it is a constitutional restraint on the Petitioners’ First Amendment constitutional rights.
The decision by the Supreme Court continues and expands its assault on the individual’s right to persuade women contemplating abortion what they are doing is wrong. Furthermore, this regulation cannot be seen as anything other than a content-based restriction on speech in the public forum. The dissent also feels that the right to be left alone is not an interest that can be legitimately weighed against the speakers’ First Amendment constitutional rights, and the Supreme Court today elevated the abortion clinic to the status of the home.
The law imposes content-based restrictions on speech by reasons of the terms it uses. This is based on the fact that this statute restricts speakers on one side of the debate and is obvious since the restriction applies only to medical facilities. The dissent is insulted by the lack of care to which the Supreme Court sustains the Colorado statute and feels they abdicated their responsibility to enforce the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Concurrence. The concurring judges feel that there is always a correlation with subject and viewpoint when the law regulates conduct that has become the signature of one side of a controversy. The correct rule is captured in the formulation that a restriction is content based only if it is imposed because of the content of the speech and not because of offensive behavior identifies with its delivery. The true question is whether the ostensible reason for regulating the circumstances is really something about the ideas. Here the evidence is that the ostensible reason is the true reason, a close encounter by a person who does not wish one.
Discussion. This case is similar to many concerning limitations to an individuals First Amendment constitutional rights, as the Supreme Court uses the same formulation to determine the constitutionality of this regulation as it has used in the past concerning regulations and injunctions similar to Madsen. It is important to note, that although the concurrences and dissent in Madsen wondered if the Supreme Court would interpret statutes, regulations and injunctions in the same way, this holding shows that the obvious answer to this question is Yes. Under Madsen and Hill, the standard for upholding injunctions and regulations that limit First Amendment constitutional rights are exactly the same. This standard determines if there is a legitimate state interest, if the regulation is an appropriate means of achieving the government’s legitimate goal and that it is narrowly tailored to limit no more speech than required. None of the regulations or injunctions can be content based; instead
they must be content neutral, speaking only to conduct. It is important once again to note the tone of the dissent in this case. Their arguments focus on the issue of abortion more than the Supreme Court’s argument or the test used to determine whether a restriction is a constitutional restriction. This could show that the test is not objected to per se, or it could be that the issue of abortion is one that fills individuals with such passion in this country that it can override their issues over the legal analysis. In order to fully determine which is true, it will take a case concerning the First Amendment constitutional rights in this case, and not involving the issue of abortion. Until such a case arises to provide a definitive answer, we are left to assume that the test postulated for determining regulations that restrict First Amendment constitutional rights in Hill, and the same test used in regards to injunctions in Madsen, is good law and will provide a complete an accurate r
esult for any potential fact pattern involving similar issues.