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Joe at the Supreme Court after Nov. 30, 2005 oral arguments [Photo by Dan Gura]
On February 28, the Supreme Court ruled—once again—that pro-life activist Joe Scheidler is not a racketeer. The unanimous 8-0 decision is being hailed as a victory not only for the pro-life movement, but for freedom of speech and the rule of law itself. Justice Samuel Alito did not take part in the ruling, since he was not on the court when oral arguments were heard.
More than three years before, on February 26, 2003, the Court ruled 8-1 that the 1998 decision against Scheidler and other pro-life defendants must be vacated, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to implement the decision, instead buying the arguments of NOW’s lawyers that somehow the Supreme Court had overlooked something in its unequivocal 2003 decision. Scheidler then went back before the Supreme Court for another hearing.
“I am mystified that I had to go to the trouble and expense of appearing before the Supreme Court three times,” said Scheidler. “The Court was right when they ruled in 2003, but the National Organization for Women refused to acknowledge defeat.” Commenting on the delay caused by the Seventh Circuit, Scheidler remarked, “The Supreme Court seems to take the First Amendment more seriously than the Circuits do.”
In 2004, Judge Diane Wood, writing for the three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, issued her ruling exactly one year to the day that the Supreme Court ruled in Scheidler’s favor. Scheidler’s attorneys then learned that Judge Wood had listed an affiliation with Planned Parenthood of Greater Chicagoland and the National Organization for Women on her Sullivan’s Directory listing. That made her a member of the plaintiff class in NOW v. Scheidler.
The National NOW office wrote a letter to Scheidler’s attorneys claiming that Judge Wood was not a member at any time. However, the Judge continues to list both NOW and Planned Parenthood in her Sullivan’s listing. Could her affinity for the National Organization for Women have influenced her impartiality in this case?
A Supreme Court victory is a strange type of win. Unlike a verdict of “not guilty” in a trial court or a reversal of a verdict by an appellate court, the Supreme Court deals with issues of law and conflicts between the Federal Circuits. What the Justices have said in their Opinion in NOW v. Scheidler is that the Hobbs Act (the law that defines the crimes under RICO) cannot be interpreted the way that NOW’s attorneys attempted to. It is a complicated examination of the language in the law and an important task of the Supreme Court to interpret exactly what Congress intended when it passed the law.
Joe conducts one interview on the phone with Focus on the Family Radio, while conducting another with Tribune reporter Judy Peres, Feb. 28 [Photo by Ann Scheidler]
The Supreme Court’s new ruling should bring an end to this case once and for all. NOW v. Scheidler was originally filed in 1986, and has been before the Supreme Court three times—more than any other case in U.S. history. The ruling was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the staunchest abortion supporters on the court, signaling how seriously the Court opposes the effort to apply federal anti-racketeering statues to public protest.
Having the Court rule that RICO and the Hobbs Act cannot be applied to the activities of the pro-life defendants is not quite as satisfying as if they had said the pro-life defendants are not guilty of any illegal activities. But it is a victory nonetheless, not only for the pro-life activists, but for the entire movement and for the First Amendment.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in such a decisive way, all that remains is for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to instruct the Federal District Court of Judge David Coar, where the case was originally tried, to reverse the judgement against Joe Scheidler and the other pro-life defendants, suspend the injunction against them, and release the bond, which still includes the Scheidlers’ Chicago home. The language of Justice Breyer’s ruling should leave no room for further delay by the Court of Appeals.
Once the District Court has entered judgement for the defendants, the League should be able to recover some of our court costs, perhaps totalling into the tens of thousands of dollars. While we cannot recover our massive lawyers fees, we are considering filing a defamation suit against NOW for fraudulently claiming over the years that NOW v. Scheidler was a case about abortion clinic violence and for characterizing Joe Scheidler as somehow responsible for bombing, arson and murder.
The real purpose behind this case was twofold: to discourage pro-life activism and to defame pro-lifers. Until the abortionists’ lies about us are fully exposed, the damage done to the entire pro-life movement by NOW v. Scheidler will not be wholly rectified. However, the publicity surrounding Scheidler’s victory in the Supreme Court is proving to be a tremendous encouragement to pro-lifers nationwide. The ultimate defeat for NOW, Fay Clayton and the abortionists would be a resurgence of pro-life activism—and that is precisely what we are seeing happen all over the country.
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