- - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On May 5, 1971, my father was arrested on the East Steps of the U.S. Capitol while listening to Rep. Ronald Dellums, California Democrat, make a speech in protest of the Vietnam War. My father, along with the others arrested, became plaintiffs in Dellums v. Powell (James M. Powell was U.S. Capitol Police chief at the time), which brought suit against Powell for violating the constitutional right of Dellums and those amassed to listen to free speech. The ruling eventually came down in the listeners’ favor, reinforcing the protection of the First Amendment, which affords not only freedom of speech, but also freedom to listen to free speech.

Recently, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that tried to enforce buffer zones around women’s health clinics to prevent protesters from gathering too close, impeding access and raising safety concerns (McCullen v. Coakley). The ruling cited the protection of the protesters’ First Amendment right to exercise free speech in trying to communicate with people coming in and out of the clinics.

In Dellums v. Powell, the court said that people had the right to be an audience. Why in McCullen v. Coakley does the court not consider the rights of those entering the clinics, those individuals who are now forced to be an audience? What about the right to not listen to free speech as the logical extension of Dellums v. Powell?

DEBORAH HORWITZ

Houston