Animal Rights Activists Among Amici in Pro-Lifers’ Ninth Circuit Appeal
In a rare show of solidarity, six groups with differing political and ethical views have filed amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs asking the Ninth Circuit to overturn a jury verdict and multi-million dollar judgment against the pro-lifers who exposed Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in baby parts.
Life Legal filed its opening brief on behalf of former Center for Medical Progress board member Albin Rhomberg on February 26. The amicus briefs filed last Friday serve to amplify and extend the arguments presented in the briefs of Rhomberg and his co-defendants.
The amicus briefs argue that District Court Judge William Orrick erred in his findings throughout the lawsuit and in his instructions to the jury – including his refusal to instruct the jury that costs incurred as a result of lawful First Amendment activity are not recoverable as damages.
Justin Marceau, a law professor at the University of Denver, filed a brief on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Mercy for Animals, and eleven free speech scholars. “Undercover newsgathering and reporting is central to law and policy debates on matters of public concern,” wrote Marceau. “[I]f left standing, the district court’s various decisions on recoverable damages will be a roadmap for investigative subjects to sue journalists, activists, and whistleblowers to chill their undercover investigative work.”
New York-based Project Veritas, a journalism enterprise dedicated to exposing “corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct” also filed an amicus brief supporting the undercover investigators, arguing the unconstitutionality of recording laws that punish based on the recorder’s intent, thus amounting to a “thought crime.”
Live Action, which has published several undercover videos exposing illegal abortion industry practices, entered the fray with a brief lambasting Planned Parenthood’s fraudulent claims of pervasive “anti-abortion threats and violence.” The brief explains how, by relying on this myth, Planned Parenthood asserts “a judicial doctrine of abortion provider exceptionalism,” demanding that long-standing First Amendment protections be stripped from pro-life advocates.
Americans United for Life and Judicial Watch also weighed in with amicus briefs supporting the pro-lifers, as did the Attorneys General of 20 states.
In 2019, a jury in Judge Orrick’s courtroom found seven defendants – Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, Sandra Merritt, Albin Rhomberg, Troy Newman, Adrian Lopez, and BioMax – liable for Planned Parenthood’s alleged $2.4 million in damages following the release of secretly recorded videos that revealed Planned Parenthood executives discussing the harvest and sale of baby body parts. Judge Orrick affirmed the jury’s verdict and awarded Planned Parenthood an additional $13.7 million in attorney fees.
Enforcement of the entire judgment is stayed pending this appeal.