The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal yesterday from pro-life protesters facing a multimillion-dollar judgment for targeting clinic doctors with “wanted” posters.
The court had been asked to give free-speech protection to the activists, but the Bush administration discouraged justices from taking the case.
Physicians sued, claiming they feared for their lives after being listed on a round of Old-West-style wanted posters and having their personal information put on the Internet. Three doctors who had been featured on posters were killed.
The American Coalition of Life Activists and others were sued under a racketeering law and the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it illegal to incite violence and threaten abortion doctors.
The activists were ordered to pay $108 million in punitive damages and $12 million in compensatory damages. An appeals court told the judge in the case to reduce the punitive damages, and the matter is pending.
The case divided the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that protesters tried to intimidate doctors and clinic staff. Appeals court judges who disagreed said the posters were free speech.
Edward White III, the attorney for the pro-life protesters, said in court filings that if the decision were allowed to stand, “political speakers accused of threats will be at the mercy of local juries, whose crushing verdicts will receive minimal First Amendment scrutiny.”
Planned Parenthood lawyer Maria Vullo told the Supreme Court that the organizers of the campaign “were fully aware of the poster/murder pattern and the fear in its wake — and they capitalized upon it to intimidate the living physicians by threats of bodily injury.”
Also yesterday, the Supreme Court said that it would consider a case involving the endangered Florida Everglades that tests the federal government’s power to fight pollution.
Justices will consider next term how much authority the federal government has in controlling water pumping across the Everglades basin.
The Bush administration urged the court last month to reject the appeal from Florida water managers who argued they should not be required to get federal permits for water-pump facilities.
An appeals court had sided with environmentalists and an Indian tribe in ordering the South Florida Water Management District to apply for permits.
James Edward Nutt, the district’s attorney, told justices in a filing that the ruling would affect a wide range of people, from private landowners and farmers to government water managers.
Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the Bush administration’s lawyer before the high court, said the federal and state government are working together to restore the Everglades and the case could be moot.
A cost-sharing blueprint signed last year by President Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, calls for spending $7.8 billion over 30 years to restore about 2.4 million acres of the Everglades ecosystem.
Attorneys for the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation told the court that if the ruling was not overturned, “the decision could cause serious operational and economic problems for hundreds of thousands of dam, and damlike, facilities in this country that prior to this decision did not require such permits.”
The permitting, lawyer Robin Rivett said, “will be a slow, ponderous, logistically difficult, monumentally costly project.”
Also, the high court agreed to consider how much party politics can influence new election maps. Justices will review a court’s decision to uphold Pennsylvania’s congressional district boundaries, drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature.
“We’re hopeful the court will say there are limits to how biased a redistricting map can be in terms of favoring one party,” said Washington lawyer Paul Smith, representing a group of Democrats who filed the appeal.
Pennsylvania lost two congressional districts after the 2000 census and Democrats and Republicans battled extensively over a new 19-district map.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Michael Fisher had told justices that the redistricting did not disproportionately hurt Democrats. Republicans won 12 of the 19 seats.