Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc.
Annotate this Case
512 U.S. 753 (1994)
OCTOBER TERM, 1993
MADSEN ET AL. v. WOMEN'S HEALTH CENTER, INC., ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA No. 93-880. Argued April 28, 1994-Decided June 30,1994
After petitioners and other antiabortion protesters threatened to picket and demonstrate around a Florida abortion clinic, a state court permanently enjoined petitioners from blocking or interfering with public access to the clinic, and from physically abusing persons entering or leaving it. Later, when respondent clinic operators sought to broaden the injunction, the court found that access to the clinic was still being impeded, that petitioners' activities were having deleterious physical effects on patients and discouraging some potential patients from entering the clinic, and that doctors and clinic workers were being subjected to protests at their homes. Accordingly, the court issued an amended injunction, which applies to petitioners and persons acting "in concert" with them, and which, inter alia, excludes demonstrators from a 36-foot buffer zone around the clinic entrances and driveway and the private property to the north and west of the clinic; restricts excessive noisemaking within the earshot of, and the use of "images observable" by, patients inside the clinic; prohibits protesters within a 300-foot zone around the clinic from approaching patients and potential patients who do not consent to talk; and creates a 300-foot buffer zone around the residences of clinic staff. In upholding the amended injunction against petitioners' claim that it violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the Florida Supreme Court recognized that the forum at issue is a traditional public forum; refused to apply the heightened scrutiny dictated by Perry Ed. Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U. S. 37, 45, because the injunction's restrictions are content neutral; and concluded that the restrictions were narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and left open ample alternative channels of communication, see ibid.
1. The injunction at issue is not subject to heightened scrutiny as content or viewpoint based simply because it restricts only the speech of antiabortion protesters. To accept petitioners' claim to the contrary would be to classify virtually every injunction as content based. An injunction, by its very nature, does not address the general public, but applies only to particular parties, regulating their activities, and perhaps their speech, because of their past actions in the context of a spe-
cific dispute. The fact that this injunction did not prohibit activities by persons demonstrating in favor of abortion is justly attributable to the lack of such demonstrations and of any consequent request for relief. Moreover, none of the restrictions at issue were directed at the content of petitioners' antiabortion message. The principal inquiry in determining content neutrality is whether the government has regulated speech without reference to its content. See, e. g., Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781, 791. The government's purpose is therefore the threshold consideration. Here, the injunction imposed incidental restrictions on petitioners' message because they repeatedly violated the original injunction. That the injunction covers people who all share the same viewpoint suggests only that those in the group whose conduct violated the court's order happen to share that viewpoint. Pp. 762-764.
2. In evaluating a content-neutral injunction, the governing standard is whether the injunction's challenged provisions burden no more speech than necessary to serve a significant government interest. See, e. g., Carroll v. President and Comm'rs of Princess Anne, 393 U. S. 175, 184. Thus, the injunction must be couched in the narrowest terms that will accomplish its pinpointed objective. See id., at 183. Although the forum around the clinic is a traditional public forum, the obvious differences between a generally applicable ordinance-which represents a legislative choice to promote particular societal interests-and an injunction-which remedies an actual or threatened violation of a legislative or judicial decree, and carries greater risks of censorship and discriminatory application than an ordinance, but can be tailored to afford greater relief where a violation of law has already occurred-require a somewhat more stringent application of general First Amendment principles in this context than traditional time, place, and manner analysis allows. The combination of the governmental interests identified by the Florida Supreme Court-protecting a pregnant woman's freedom to seek lawful medical or counseling services, ensuring public safety and order, promoting the free flow of traffic on public streets and sidewalks, protecting citizens' property rights, and assuring residential privacyis quite sufficient to justify an appropriately tailored injunction. Pp. 764-768.
3. Given the focus of the picketing on patients and clinic staff, the narrowness of the confines around the clinic, the fact that protesters could still be seen and heard from the clinic parking lots, and the failure of the first injunction to accomplish its purpose, the 36-foot buffer zone around the clinic entrances and driveway, on balance, burdens no more speech than necessary to accomplish the governmental interests in protecting access to the clinic and facilitating an orderly traffic flow on the
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