Life Legal to Jackson Police: Stop Playing Games with Free Speech Rights

On Tuesday, April 28, Life Legal Defense Foundation filed the opening brief in Pro-Life Mississippi v. Vance, challenging the ongoing harassment of pro-life advocates by police officers in Jackson, Mississippi. The appeal to the Fifth Circuit follows a lower court’s denial of a preliminary injunction last October.

Jackson has a history of infringing on the rights of pro-lifers. In 2008, a federal district court entered a consent decree against the city of Jackson and several individual officers. The decree prohibited police from abusing city ordinances regarding signage and noise restrictions to selectively silence pro-life speech. It also generally admonished the police and city officials to respect the rights of the pro-life plaintiffs.

Unfortunately the salutary effects of that consent decree soon wore off. Within a few years, the police once again began imposing extra-legal restrictions on the sidewalk counselors outside Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic still open in the state of Mississippi. Police threatened counselors and picketers with arrest if they placed anything on the ground temporarily, sat on the curb, or even let their signs touch the ground. Several pro-lifers have been arrested for violating these ad hoc regulations, some repeatedly, despite the fact that most charges are dismissed once they reach court.

The brief states, “[The defendants’] current strategy is to make speakers unwilling participants in a game of ‘Mother, May I?’ with the police. The losers are sent, not back to the starting line, but to criminal court on frivolous charges of obstructing a street or sidewalk.”

Life Legal is seeking an injunction prohibiting the police from arresting or threatening to arrest the plaintiffs for obstruction. Once the case returns to the trial court, Life Legal will also be seeking damages on behalf of the plaintiffs for the past constitutional violations.
Read the Appellants’ Opening Brief