Supreme Court Strikes Down President Obama’s Recess Appointments, Buffer Zones for Abortion Clinics

This article was originally published on Latin Post.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings on Thursday, regarding President Barack Obama’s executive power and the right to protest outside abortion clinics.

National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning:  

The court unanimously ruled that President Obama violated the Constitution when he appointed three officials in 2012 —Sharon Block, Richard Griffin, and Terence Flynn — to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was on a three-day break during pro forma sessions. Obama originally appointed the three officials under the Recess Appointments Clause, which gives the president the right to “fill up vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate.” Pepsi-Cola distributor Noel Canning found issue with the appointments, claiming the three officials were invalidly appointed.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the majority opinion, saying such recess appointments are allowed if the Senate breaks for 10 or more days.

“Three days is too short a time to bring a recess within the scope of the [Recess Appointments Clause]. Thus we conclude that the president lacked the power to make the recess appointments here at issue,” Justice Breyer wrote.

As The New York Times noted, Obama issued his executive power on the three officials’ appointments because of Republican filibusters in the Senate.

The three appointments are therefore nullified.

McCullen v. Coakley, Attorney General Of Massachusetts:

The Supreme Court issued a second unanimous vote that struck down a Massachusetts law barring protests near abortion clinics.

The Massachusetts law was adopted in 2007 and established a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics’ entrances. The law was developed following harassment and violence at abortion clinics with the state. Opponents of the law said they wanted to have “sidewalk counseling” with the women entering the clinics.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health’s Executive Director Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas said the Supreme Court’s decision caused deep concerns for the organization.

In a statement, Gonzalez-Rojas said, “For too long, demonstrators outside women’s health clinics have harassed, threatened, and violated the privacy of women seeking needed services. As someone who has been assaulted by anti-choice protesters when entering a clinic for reproductive health care in the early 90s, I know personally how critical buffer zones are for the safety and security of patients.”

According to Gonzalez-Rojas, Massachusetts’ buffer zone laws helped create a safe space for the reproductive health care clinics as no one should be physically attacked or threatened.

“These facilities are often the only places where low-income women can access these critical services,” Gonzalez-Rojas said. “Despite this disappointing decision, we will continue to work with advocates and policymakers to ensure that Latinas and their providers can seek and provide care without fear of violence, threats or intimidation.”

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the court’s opinion. Justice Roberts noted Massachusetts could enact the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994, which subjects criminal and civil penalties to anyone who “by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person because that person is or has been, or in order to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from, obtaining or providing reproductive health services.”

New York City was also highlighted for its ordinance that prohibits obstruction of a clinic’s access and makes it a crime “to follow and harass another person within 15 feet of the premises of a reproductive health care facility.” Justice Roberts also acknowledged existing Massachusetts laws already ensure the safety of individuals seeking to enter clinics without infringing someone’s speech and debate.

“In short, given the vital First Amendment interests at stake, it is not enough for Massachusetts simply to say that other approaches have not worked,” Justice Roberts wrote.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said, “A woman seeking reproductive health care should not be harassed, judged or shamed. The buffer zone allows protection from this harassment while also still allowing protesters to exercise their first amendment rights.”

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