WASHINGTON — Prosecutors took a hard line Thursday with demonstrators who participated in a rare disruption inside the U.S. Supreme Court, adding additional charges against them and saying disrupting the high court is different from other protests in the nation's capital.
The demonstrators, five women and two men, were arrested last month after standing in succession inside the court and shouting protests against the court's 2010 Citizens United campaign finance ruling. Each person stood and spoke after the court's justices took the bench but before oral arguments began on Jan. 21, the fifth anniversary of the court's Citizens United decision. The decision freed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts on Congressional and presidential elections.
On Thursday, prosecutors added two additional misdemeanor charges against the seven demonstrators. The group behind the demonstration, 99Rise, was also responsible for a similar demonstration last year in which the group's co-founder Kai Newkirk was arrested. Newkirk's protest was the first to disrupt an argument session in more than seven years.
The disruptions made news not only because they were rare but because the group managed to take videos of both events and post them on their website, despite the fact that the Supreme Court does not allow cameras inside the courtroom. Spectators, lawyers and reporters have to pass through a metal detector before entering the Supreme Court chamber, and police examine the things spectators are bringing into court.
Prosecutor Kacie Weston told a judge Thursday that the Supreme Court was taking January's demonstration very seriously, in particular because it was the first time a group had acted together to disrupt the court. She said disrupting the high court is different from disrupting Congress, where demonstrations are much more frequent, because Congress is expected to answer to the people while the Supreme Court is supposed to be independent.
"There is a time and a place for everything," Weston said, calling disrupting the high court's session "inappropriate."
One person who was filming the January demonstration, using a pen that doubled as a video camera, was also arrested along with the demonstrators. The man, Ryan Clayton, has asked for a trial in his case. Newkirk, the group's leader, said Thursday that Clayton's pen camera had been confiscated but acknowledged the group had other video. He said his group wouldn't rule out further protests at the court.
Two of the demonstrators agreed Thursday to plead guilty in the case. They chose a five-day jail sentence rather than agree to two years unsupervised probation. Both have also been barred from the court grounds for a year.
The other demonstrators will return to court in March and now face three charges, each punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
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