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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