Thursday, August 24, 2024 | Chicago, IL—On August 24th, the Liberty Justice Center filed an amicus brief urging the United States Supreme Court to hear Vitagliano v. County of Westchester, a case that could strengthen protections for free speech.
The plaintiff in the case, aspiring sidewalk counselor Debra Vitagliano, is challenging a recent Westchester County, New York law creating a 100-foot “bubble zone” around abortion clinics. This law prohibits anyone in the “bubble zone” from approaching within eight feet of another person—but only if the reason for approaching is “oral protest, education, or counseling.” Vitagliano is asking the Supreme Court to hear her case after a lower court dismissed it.
“The government cannot single out certain kinds of speech for disfavored status, but that is just what Westchester County has done,” said Senior Counsel Jeffrey Schwab. “You can approach people, and you can talk to them—except about certain subjects that the government has said are off-limits. That kind of speech discrimination violates the First Amendment.”
In dismissing Vitagliano’s First Amendment challenge, lower courts relied on a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Hill v. Colorado. But the Liberty Justice Center’s amicus brief argues that Hill should be overturned because it was too lax in allowing the government to restrict speech based on its subject matter. A 2015 decision, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, made clear that courts must give the highest level of constitutional scrutiny—or “strict scrutiny,” which few speech restrictions could survive—to all laws that restrict speech based on its content.
The Liberty Justice Center’s brief asks the Court to hear Vitagliano’s case, overrule Hill, and strike down the Westchester County “bubble zone” law.
“The Hill decision is out of line with more recent Supreme Court decisions that provide strong protection for free speech. This case gives the Court an opportunity to overturn Hill and ensure that the government can’t just decree that certain topics or viewpoints are off-limits,” said Jeffrey Schwab.
The Liberty Justice Center’s brief is available here.