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Noise Headlines and Top Story- Updated May 18, 2018
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Supreme Court Declines to Hear
Appeal in Noise Ordinance Case

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision by a lower court that upheld the so-called noise provision of the Maine Civil Rights Act. The case centers around Andrew March, who Portland police determined was violating the law when his anti-abortion demonstration was deemed loud enough to disrupt the workings of a Planned Parenthood clinic. March sued, arguing that the Maine law violated his First Amendment right to free speech because it was based on the content of his speech. In 2016, a U.S. District Court judge agreed with March, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First District reversed the decision, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Under the Maine Civil Rights Act, after being ordered to stop by a police officer, it is illegal to intentionally make noise that can be heard within a building with the intent of jeopardizing the health of persons receiving health services within the building or interfering with the safe and effective delivery of those services. It applies to all health facili-ties, not just abortion clinics. March’s Supreme Court brief for the petitioner argued that “the noise provision is, on its face, a content-based restriction on speech. The intent of the person making noise—or the purpose of the speech—cannot, within the bounds of the protections afforded by the First Amendment, be a reason to suppress speech.”

In her brief in opposition, the respondent, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills claimed that the “noise provision makes no references to the ‘communicative content’ but rather regulates the volume of the noise when it disrupts health care services. The noise provision applies to all manner of protesters who might attempt to use noise to disrupt health care services, not just those opposed to abortion.”

The Court of Appeals agreed that the provision is not content-based, reasoning that, although the restriction depends on the noisemaker’s intent to disrupt, it is not entirely dependent on the communicative content of the noise. “Thus, nothing on the face of the noise provision indicates that enforcement authorities must examine the content of the speaker’s communication in order to find a violation.”

Andrew March, Petitioner, v. Janet Mills, et al., Respondents. Case No. NO. 17-689 In the Supreme Court of the United States, and Andrew March, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. Janet Mills, individually and in her official capacity as Attorney General for the State of Maine, Defendant, Appellant. Case No. 16-1771 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First District.

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