Federal judge finds DC 'selectively' arrested pro-life advocates

August 18, 2023

Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled that Washington, D.C. officials "selectively" enforced a statute to arrest pro-life activists but not Black Lives Matter demonstrators in 2020. This is a major victory for free speech.

In the summer of 2020, thousands of Black Lives Matter demonstrators descended upon Washington, D.C., and over several weeks, they painted and chalked the streets, pavements, and storefronts, as Breitbart News reported.

Although these markings violated the District's ordinance against defacement, no demonstrators were arrested.

However, district police officers arrested two pro-life advocates for writing "Black Pre-Born Lives Matter" on a public sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Washington, D.C.

From the Opinion

“The government may not enforce the laws in a manner that picks winners and losers in public debates,” reads the D.C. Circuit opinion penned by Judge Neomi Rao, reversing a lower court’s decision.

“It would undermine the First Amendment’s protections for free speech if the government could enact a content-neutral law and then discriminate against disfavored viewpoints under the cover of prosecutorial discretion.”

The First Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of viewpoint irrespective of the government’s motive,” the three-judge panel ruled:

We hold the Foundation has plausibly alleged the District discriminated on the basis of viewpoint in the selective enforcement of its defacement ordinance. We therefore reverse the dismissal of the Foundation’s First Amendment claim and remand for further proceedings.

Attorney's Assessment

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of members of the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The jury of three judges consisted of Robert Wilkins, Neomi Rao, and Michelle Childs.

On behalf of pro-life organizations, ADF Senior Counsel Erin Hawley, vice president of the ADF Center for Life and Regulatory Practice, argued before the court.

Washington officials can’t censor messages they disagree with. The right to free speech is for everyone, and we’re pleased the D.C. Circuit agreed that the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life should be able to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to peacefully share their views the same as anyone else.

Every American deserves for their voice to be heard as they engage in important cultural and political issues of the day.

Frederick Douglass Foundation Virginia Chapter President J.R. Gurley issued a statement praising the court’s decision, saying “The city shouldn’t allow some groups to participate in the public forum and shun others from doing so just because city officials disagree with their viewpoint.

“The First Amendment protects our right to peacefully share our pro-life message in Washington, D.C. without fear of unjust government punishment and thankfully, the D.C. Circuit agreed.”

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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