Life Legal Lawyers in Court Challenging New California Law Criminalizing Free Speech

Life Legal attorneys appeared remotely in federal court in San Jose last week to argue that a new California law severely restricting speech on public sidewalks is unconstitutional.

The law, SB 742 prohibits, among other things, “harassing,” which is redefined as “knowingly approaching, without consent, within 30 feet of another person or occupied vehicle for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with, that other person in a public way or on a sidewalk area.”

SB 742 was enacted ostensibly to ensure that the public has access to COVID-19 vaccines without interference from protesters. However, legislators amended the law before it was passed to remove references to COVID vaccine sites, instead defining a “vaccination site” as a location offering any type of vaccine services, which includes Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities that dispense Gardasil and other STD vaccines.

Life Legal filed a lawsuit immediately after Governor Newsom signed SB 742. We are representing pro-life sidewalk counselors who regularly speak with women entering “vaccination site” abortion clinics, and who provide literature and display signs offering help with abortion alternatives – all activities that may be illegal under the new law. 

The law is unprecedented in its breadth, criminalizing activities that are explicitly protected by the Constitution, such as handing out leaflets, carrying signs, and providing education on public sidewalks.

The Supreme Court has struck down similar expansive restrictions on First Amendment speech, holding that, “Precision of regulation must be the touchstone in an area so closely touching our most precious freedoms.” (NAACP v. Button,1963) SB 742 is a blunt sledgehammer that crushes precious First Amendment rights for no good reason. 

Magistrate Judge Nathanael M. Cousins, presiding over the case in the Northern District of California, appeared likely to grant Life Legal’s petition for an order blocking enforcement of the law.

“We are chagrined but not surprised that Democrat Attorney General Rob Bonta would defend this political stunt masquerading as a safety measure,” said Life Legal Chief Legal Officer Katie Short, who argued the case. “At a time when all manner of liberties are in jeopardy, it is our hope that the federal courts are not willing to abandon fundamental First Amendment principles that are the bedrock of democracy.”

The case is Aubin v. Bonta, No. 5:21-cv-07938-NC (N.D. Cal.). You can read Life Legal’s legal arguments against SB 742 here.

Author: Life Legal

The Life Legal Defense Foundation is a non-profit law firm that specializes in the defense of vulnerable human life, especially life in the womb.

Leave a Reply