On April 1, 2015, five activists of the left-wing 99Rise group stood up one by one and disrupted oral arguments at the Supreme Court in protest of a prior decision related to the free speech of corporations and limits on political campaign contributions, according to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The five activists took turns standing and loudly heckling the Justices, capturing their shenanigans on video, an astonishing feat in and of itself given that recording equipment is prohibited inside the chamber of the high court and attendees are generally searched for such items before being permitted entry.
The activists were arrested and charged with disrupting the court, and their case finally made it to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel ultimately upheld the a challenged statute they were charged under and kicked the case back down to the lower courts to be retried — and almost certainly convicted.
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You can watch the video of their disruptions right here:
The Washington Examiner reported that as the activists were removed from the court, Justice Clarence Thomas recognized one from a previous disruptive act while Justice Antonin Scalia remarked, “Give them stiff, stiff sentences.”
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According to the appeals court ruling written by Judge Janice Rogers Brown, the bulk of which explained and defended the relevant statute which specifically prohibits individuals from making “a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court,” 40 U.S.C. § 6134, the judge cited the classic 1992 courtroom comedy film “My Cousin Vinny” to support the court’s determination of what constituted a “harangue” or “oration” to the court.
Understanding that both the terms “harangue” and “oration” are generally understand to mean various forms of speech addressing the public, and that the activists received “fair notice” and should have understood that their actions inside the court were prohibited, Judge Brown ended her ruling with the citation of the 1992 Joe Pesci classic “My Cousin Vinny” to emphasize her point.
Brown is a judicial conservative appointed by President George W. Bush, who took her seat on the appellate court only after a two-year fight in which Senate Democrats — including then-Sen. Barack Obama — refused to confirm her nomination.
Her ruling showed she has the brains, and the sense of humor, that every American should welcome in a federal judge.
Brown wrote: “Turning to the facts here, a person of ordinary intelligence could read this law and understand that, as a member of the Supreme Court’s oral argument audience, making disruptive public speeches is clearly proscribed behavior.”
“Their coordinated standing, facing the bench, and messaging indicate the Appellees were addressing the Court and gallery,” she continued, (emphasis added) “Cf. MY COUSIN VINNY (20th Century Fox 1992) (Judge Chamberlain Haller: “Don’t talk to me sitting in that chair! . . . When you’re addressing this court, you’ll rise and speak to me in a clear, intelligible voice.”). Viewed objectively, these alleged acts could easily be considered speeches to a public assembly that tended to disrupt the Court’s operations — conduct covered by § 6134’s prohibition of ‘make a harangue or oration.'”
The misguided “youts” will now have to face the original charges they were arrested under for haranguing or orating in front of the court in a disruptive manner. Unfortunately for the late Scalia, they likely won’t receive “stiff sentences” though, as the charges they face only carry a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail and a fine.
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