P.O. Box 2105, Napa, California 94558 — (707) 224-6675


Contact: Katie Short, Legal Director
(707) 224-6675

Lawyers for the City of Oakland encountered tough questioning from Ninth Circuit justices Marsha Berzon and Stephen Reinhardt during oral argument on Pastor Walter Hoye’s challenge to the constitutionality of the City’s “Mother May I” law restricting sidewalk counseling. The City’s forthright admission that the City interpreted the law as not applying to clinic escorts “facilitating access” to abortion clinics met with raised eyebrows. But the City’s further suggestion that the law didn’t apply to anything but speech intended to discourage women from having abortions brought sharp rebukes from the justices.

LLDF Legal Director Katie Short and volunteer attorney Michael Millen filed suit on Pastor Hoye’s behalf immediately after the law’s passage in December 2007. The lawsuit challenged several aspects of the ordinance as unconstitutional, including its preference for pro-abortion speech over pro-life speech. The suit also alleged that the active interference and blocking by clinic escorts turned the law’s 8-foot “buffer” around patients into an insurmountable barrier to communication.

In August 2009, federal district judge Charles Breyer granted summary judgment for the City and dismissed the case. LLDF appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in an hour-long hearing on October 8, the court heard arguments from both sides. Click here to download an audio-recording of the arguments.

“Katie Short did a great job of presenting our case,” said Millen, “but it was the City’s own admission of its true intentions that should make the justices’ jobs very easy. Under the guise of ‘facilitating access’, the City gave carte blanche to any speech that encourages women to go into clinics, while punishing speech that merely suggested alternatives to abortion.”

The City went so far as to say that even leaflets that were distributed outside the clinic would need to be reviewed by police to determine if the law was being violated or not. “You just won’t find a clearer textbook example of forbidden content-based discrimination than that,” added Millen.

A written decision from the Court of Appeals is expected in a matter of months.