The findings of the District Court and the Seventh circuit Court of Appeals in NOW v. Scheidler have serious consequences for other social movements which rely on protests, demonstrations and strong rhetoric to spread their message and effect social change.
Among those who rushed to file Amicus Briefs in support of our Petition to the U. S. Supreme Court to issue a Writ of Certiorari, are the Concerned Women for America, the Illinois Catholic Conference and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Concerned Women for America Sees the Importance of NOW v. Scheidler
CWA filed a brief because they believe that the lower court’s decision poses a significant threat to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, organization and assembly. Their brief argues that the “rewriting of the taking element of the Hobb’s Act . . . demonstrates that civil RICO, combined with a dangerously expansive definition of Hobbs Act extortion, requires courts to mete out Draconian punishment for minor offenses, thereby chilling protected speech.
The Catholic Conference of Illinois’s interest in the case is twofold. First, that abortion constitutes the unjustified killing of an innocent human being as is thus contrary to the commandment, “Thou Shalt not Kill.” Second, that the Catholic conference has a direct interest in ensuring that ll opponents of abortion be permitted access to the “marketplace of ideas” on an equal footing with those who advocate legal abortion. Catholics have “a grave and clear obligation to oppose [laws legitimizing abortion] by conscientious objection.” The Catholic Conference is alarmed at the possibility that its activities advocating the end of abortion, inspired by faith and protected by the Constitution could somehow be construed as a “pattern of racketeering activity” under RICO.
PETA Concerned Over First Amendment Rights
PETA is also concerned about the violation of the First Amendment at issue in the RICO case. PETA is an organization which uses peaceful means to expose and end animal abuse wherever it occurs. They have often engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience to call public attention to laws or practices that they find objectionable “consistent with the greatest protest traditions of this nation.” PETA’s interest is not simply hypothetical. In 1997 PETA was sued under RICO for its investigation and exposure of animal cruelty at a New Jersey animal testing laboratory. The case was settled, but PETA remains at risk for another RICO attack.
The State of Alabama filed an amicus brief asking that the Court settle the ambiguity created by a difference of opinion between the circuits on the issue of private injunctive relief under RICO.
Seamless Garment Network Appaled by Extortion Theory
The Seamless Garment Network and a host of its member organizations filed an Amicus Brief in support of our Petition requesting Certiorari, stating, in part, that the “novel theory of extortion adopted by the court of appeals . . . would have been a major impediment to all movements of social protest that have enhanced the protection of life, liberty and equality in this nation.” Among the participating members of SGN who signed on to the brief are: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. SCLC sponsored many high profile demonstrations, including civil disobedience in pursuit of equal rights for black Americans. Roy Bourgeois, M.M., the Maryknoll priest who founded the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), has been arrested numerous times for his participation in demonstrations against the U. S. Army’s program of training foreign military officers from Central and South America who abuse the human rights of their citizens. Martin Sheen, actor and activist for peace and justice filed a last minute motion to be added to the brief. Abe Bonowitz, director of Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, promotes tactical grassroots activism to oppose the death penalty.
The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington DC was among the organizations that joined the SGN brief. This community provides a ministry to the homeless and imprisoned. It also sponsors a weekly vigil for peace at the Pentagon and conducts demonstrations against war and militarism, poverty and abortion.
Full List of Amici Supporters
The complete list of individual signers to the Seamless Garment Network amicus brief is as follows:
David Atwood, Donald Bauer, Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Wendell Berry, Abe Bonowitz, Roy Bourgeois, Bernard Broussard, Will David Campbell, Janet Chisholm, Carol Crossed, John Dear, Richard Deats, Peter DeMott, Jim & Shelley Douglass, William and Eugenia Durland, Ruth Enero, Mary Anne Flores, Bruce Friedrich, Clare Grady, Ellen Grady, Thomas Gumbleton, Lana Jacobs, Kathy Kelly, Art Laffin, Rachel MacNair, Liz McAlister, Deborah McEvoy, Richard McSorley, Paul Magno, Lillibeth Navarro, Patrick O’Neill, Gail Phares, Mary Rider, Scott & Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, Martin Sheen, Kathy Boylan Shields, Jessica Stewart, John Stoner, Andrew L. Sullivan, Brian Terrell, Howard Zinn and Stephen Zunes.
The Associations or Communities joining the amicus brief are:
Agape, Casa Juan Diego, Catholic Peace Fellowship, Center for Action and Contemplation, Center for Peace Studies at Georgetown University, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Day House, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House, Embrace a Consistent Ethic, Every church a Peace Church, Feminists for Life of New York, Franciscan Office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, Ithaca NY Catholic Worker, the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, Mary’s House, Nevada Desert Experience, Not Dead Yet, the Peter Maurin Center, Pax Christi USA, Plowshares, St. Francis Catholic Worker community, St. Francis & Therese Catholic Worker House, Southern Christian Leadership conference, Vieques Support committee, Voices in the Wilderness, Witnesses for Reconciliation.