Challenging Jackson's ban on free speech outside abortion clinics
The Mississippi Justice Institute and members of Sidewalk Advocates for Life – Jackson, Mississippi launched a challenge to Jackson’s new prohibition on counseling and other free speech outside the state’s only abortion facility.
The new ordinance bans individuals who are near health facilities from approaching within eight feet of any person without consent, for the purpose of engaging in various forms of speech such as counseling, education, or distributing leaflets; bans people from congregating or demonstrating within 15 feet of the abortion facility, and bans any amplified sound. Violations of the ordinance could result in fines of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.
“Our clients are engaging in quintessential free speech, and they are doing so peacefully and respectfully,” said Aaron Rice, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute. “They care deeply for the unborn and feel morally led to offer life-affirming alternatives to people entering an abortion facility. Jackson’s new ordinance is an attempt to silence our clients’ speech, and we are proud to stand with them and defend their rights.
“Regardless of what anyone thinks of our clients’ views, we should recognize that they have the right to hold those views. And just as importantly, they have the right to express those views, and to try to convince others to adopt their views. That is the very meaning of a free society.”
In the past five years, Sidewalk Advocates for Life has trained thousands of volunteers to go to abortion facilities to simply offer loving, life-affirming alternatives to abortion. In that time, nearly 7,000 women and families have freely chosen the help provided and given life to their children.
“Women regularly accept our offer to help in the midst of an unexpected pregnancy, said Pam Miller, Co-Leader of Sidewalk Advocates for Life – Jackson, Mississippi. “In fact, in partnership with other peaceful community members, more women than ever – at least 30 this year alone – have opted to take advantage of the free, alternative resources the Jackson community provides. We are committed to connecting women with the loving, life-affirming assistance they deserve, and we will continue to serve the women of Mississippi in a peaceful and law-abiding way.”
The lawsuit was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court.
After MJI filed the lawsuit in Hinds County Circuit Court, the city attempted to remove the lawsuit to federal court, stating in a press release that federal court was “the appropriate venue for this matter,” despite the fact that the plaintiffs had alleged only that the challenged ordinance violated the Mississippi Constitution, and had not made allegations regarding the U.S. Constitution.
Chief District Judge Daniel Jordan sided with MJI’s motion to remand the case back to state court, stating, “It is up to Mississippi’s courts to interpret the state’s constitution and develop the state’s constitutional law.
“The Court is hard-pressed to find a reasonable basis justifying removal in this case. All of Plaintiffs’ claims allege that the ordinance violated their rights under the Mississippi Constitution. As to Plaintiffs’ free-speech claim, the city said that Plaintiffs necessarily raised a federal issue because their claim concerns an abortion-related law, which ‘is at the center of controversial and evolving federal jurisprudence[.]’ That may be true, but the city cites no case law—nor can the Court find any—from which it could reasonably conclude that this could form the basis of federal-question jurisdiction. As explained, the case law, and basic principles of federalism, are to the contrary.”
The judge also held that attorneys for the city of Jackson lacked any reasonable basis to believe their removal of the case to federal court was legally proper, and therefore ordered the city to pay the legal fees and court costs incurred by the plaintiffs in opposing the move. The Court instructed counsel for the Sidewalk Advocates to submit a motion with an affidavit supported by billing records documenting the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs that they have incurred. While the plaintiffs are represented by MJI for free, the law allows public interest law firms such as MJI to recover reasonable costs and fees incurred when a defendant improperly removes a case to federal court.
“Quite frankly, we were shocked by the position taken by the city of Jackson in these court filings,” said Aaron Rice, the Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute. “Jackson’s argument completely disregarded the principles of federalism upon which our country was founded, denigrated the competence of state courts to hear state law claims, and was dismissive of the authority of state courts to interpret their own state’s constitution. Fortunately, the federal court understood that, and ensured that state courts will have this important opportunity to interpret the Mississippi Constitution’s free speech protections.”
Appeal Filed - October 14, 2019
Original Court - Hinds County Circuit Court
Status - Open
Barbara Beavers - Client
Monica Cable - Client
Laura Knight - Client
Pamela Miller - Client
Aaron Rice - Attorney
Andy Taggart - Pro Bono Co-Counsel
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