US Supreme Court ruling prompts city of Madison to abandon anti-speech zones

City’s decision comes days after ADF filed supplemental brief in lawsuit against ordinance
Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  Matt Bowman

MADISON, Wis. – The city of Madison has again suspended enforcement of its law that creates hundreds of anti-speech zones throughout the city. The city’s decision, which City Attorney Michael May announced in an e-mail Tuesday, comes just days after ADF attorneys filed a supplemental brief in federal district court that explained the heightened problems with the ordinance in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision Thursday in McCullen v. Coakley, a case ADF attorneys and allied attorneys filed in 2008.

May admitted in his e-mail that the Supreme Court’s decision, which struck down an anti-speech zone ordinance in Massachusetts, “raises significant concerns…about the continued validity of the Madison ordinance,” which city council member and former NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Director Lisa Subeck introduced and chiefly sponsored. The city had temporarily suspended enforcement of the ordinance in March but began enforcing it again after the council made minor amendments to the law.

“The government cannot gag speech just because it doesn’t reflect the government’s views or the views of abortionists,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The Supreme Court has now made it even more clear that public streets and sidewalks are places where free speech is highly protected. The city is wisely abandoning enforcement of its unconstitutional censorship zones.”

Madison may be the first city in the country to back away from an anti-speech zone law in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. Madison’s ordinance imposes “bubbles” that are 200 feet in diameter and restrict free speech within them throughout the city. The bubbles exist around the entrances of every place in the city where a physician or nurse happens to provide medical services.

Within each bubble, no person may “approach” within eight feet of another person to leaflet, educate, display a sign, protest, or counsel any passers-by. The ordinance therefore creates such zones around hundreds of locations, including areas near the State Capitol and the University of Wisconsin campus.

Although the city attorney wrote in his e-mail that the Madison ordinance is like a Colorado law that the Supreme Court did not directly address in its decision, he concluded that the McCullen decision nonetheless impacts the validity of Madison’s ordinance. ADF contends the Madison ordinance is not like Colorado’s law.

“The city attorney’s concern is clearly warranted, but Madison’s ordinance is much broader than either the Massachusetts or Colorado laws,” Bowman explained. “It is an egregious violation of the First Amendment.”

ADF attorneys filed their lawsuit, Madison Vigil for Life v. City of Madison, with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in February.
 
  • Pronunciation guide: Bowman (BOH’-min)
 
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