The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and its members should be prevented from blocking access to nine abortion clinics in Northern Virginia.
The court said it will hear arguments that a federal judge lacked the authority to issue the injunction barring such activity.U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of Alexandria, Va., banned Operation Rescue blockades at the nine clinics after the National Organization for Women asked him for a more sweeping order covering all abortion clinics in the metropolitan Washington area.
Ellis allowed Operation Rescue members to picket peacefully and hold other demonstrations at the clinics, as long as they did not interfere with patients' access. Ellis also ordered Operation Rescue to pay nearly $27,000 in legal fees and court costs incurred by NOW.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his rulings.
The lower courts ruled that the group's blockades had interfered with the right of interstate travel, noting that some of the women who sought treatment at the clinics were not from Virginia.
Such blockades "crossed the line from persuasion into coercion and operated to deny the exercise of rights protected by law," the appeals court said.
The Operation Rescue appeal argued, among other things, that Ellis lacked the authority to issue the injunction because the constitutionally protected right to travel was not involved.
"The implications of this holding are astonishing," the appeal said. "Virtually every business located in a city situated near a state border . . . as well as every business located on a major interstate route . . . will serve out-of-state customers on a regular basis. According to the holding of the court below, any sit-in or mass picketing at such a business would be a federal constitutional violation."
The appeal was filed in behalf of Operation Rescue and six of its members, including group leader Randall Terry.
Other U.S. Supreme Court decisions
- Declined to hear the appeal of black voters in rural Phillips County, Ark., who contended that the runoff election system used in party primaries and general elections is racially biased. With only one dissent, the justices let stand rulings that the system does not violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because blacks comprise a majority of the county's population.
- Agreed to review federal courts' power to second-guess state court prosecutions by voting to consider reinstating the conviction of Mark Owen McGuire, who was accused of murdering his infant daughter in California in 1981. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned McGuire's conviction last May, saying his due-process rights had been violated by the admission into evidence in state court of the child's previous injuries and a pathologist's diagnosis of battered child syndrome.
- Agreed to consider giving state officials new protection against federal lawsuits accusing them of violating people's rights. The appeal to be heard was brought by Pennsylvania Auditor General Barbara Hafer, a Republican accused of firing Democratic employees for partisan political reasons.
- Refused to reinstate a $785,000 libel award that the Duluth News-Tribune in Minnesota had been ordered to pay to a former prosecutor, Donald Diesen, for articles in 1981 that a jury said created a false impression. The justices let stand a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that the articles are constitutionally protected against any libel liability. The articles criticized the handling of cases involving battered women.