United States District Court, D. Columbia.
DAVID BRONSTEIN, MATTHEW KRESLING, BELINDA RODRIGUEZ, RICHARD
SAFFLE, Defendants: Jeffrey Louis Light, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW
OFFICES OF JEFFREY LIGHT, Washington, DC.
YASMINA MRABET, Defendant: Jeffrey Louis Light, LEAD
ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF JEFFREY LIGHT, Washington, DC; John
James Carney, LEAD ATTORNEY, CARNEY & CARNEY, Washington, DC.
USA, Plaintiff: Angela S. George, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S.
ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Criminal Division, Washington, DC;
James Marvin Perez, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.
R. COOPER, United States District Judge.
James Madison observed long ago, " no language is so
copious as to supply words and phrases for every complex
idea, or so correct as not to include many equivocally
denoting different ideas." The Federalist No. 47, at 225
(James Madison) (C. Rossiter ed., 1963). Legislatures at all
levels have powerfully confirmed Madison's insight. Yet
even if some imprecision must be tolerated in the vast web of
statutes that govern our daily lives, the criminal law must
be sufficiently definite to provide fair notice to those it
would punish on society's behalf and to cabin the
discretion of its appointed peacekeepers and factfinders. The
question before the Court is whether a law prohibiting three
separate forms of speech in the Supreme Court of the United
States fulfills these important constitutional requirements.
defendants are five individuals who stood up and spoke out at
the beginning of a Supreme Court argument session last Term.
They were charged with uttering " loud" language
and making a " harangue" or " oration" in
the Supreme Court building, all in violation of 40 U.S.C.
§ 6134. Defendants have moved to dismiss that count of
the criminal information filed against them, challenging each
of the above terms as unconstitutionally vague in all of
their applications. With respect to " harangue" and
" oration," the Court agrees--a prosecution under
this language would violate the Due Process Clause. The word
" harangue" is not only anachronistic; its meanings
are too imprecise and varied to clearly delineate the
prohibited conduct. The word " oration," while more
common in modern parlance, suffers from similar definitional
ambiguity. Read in isolation, the statute's prohibition
of " loud" utterances also poses vagueness
concerns. But because the term " loud" can be
fairly construed as banning only those utterances that
disturb or tend to disturb the normal operations of the U.S.
Supreme Court, the Court will permit Defendants'
prosecution based on that limiting construction.
The April 1, 2015 Incident
David Bronstein, Matthew Kresling, Yasmina Mrabet, Belinda
Rodriguez, and Richard Saffle arrived at the Supreme Court on
the morning of April 1, 2015 to attend an oral-argument
session. They passed through an initial
security checkpoint, entered the Upper Great Hall, cleared
security again, and took their places inside the courtroom.
Supreme Court police officers stood at designated posts
throughout the courtroom. After a buzzer indicated that
proceedings would begin in five minutes, Officer Dunford
recited the following message to all assembled:
Welcome to the Supreme Court of the United States. During
today's oral arguments it is important that you remain
seated and silent. When the first case breaks, please remain
silent. If you are remaining for the second case, remain
seated. If you are leaving, silently exit the Courtroom. . .
. Please alert one of the police officers if you observe
anything suspicious, and in the event of an emergency, please
remain calm and follow the directions of a police officer.
Govt.'s Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 3 ("
Opp'n" ). The buzzer sounded again at 10:00 a.m. The
Supreme Court Marshal struck a gavel to inaugurate the
day's proceedings, and three police officers standing in
front of the public seating area motioned upward to implore
visitors to stand. As the Justices took the bench, the
Supreme Court Marshal intoned a familiar greeting:
The Honorable, the Chief Justice, and the Associate Justices
of the Supreme Court of the United States. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme
Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and
give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save
the United States and this Honorable Court.
Id. The Marshal then gaveled audience members to
their seats, and the police officers motioned downward to
indicate that visitors should sit for the remainder of the
argument session. By 10:02 a.m., only one member of the
audience--Defendant Belinda Rodriguez--remained standing.
extended her arm in the air and stated, " We rise to
demand democracy. One person, one vote!" Id. A
Supreme Court police officer detained Rodriguez and escorted
her out of the courtroom. Moments later, Defendant Kresling
arose and stated, " We rise to . . . . Money is not
speech. One person, one vote!" Id. Another
police officer detained Kresling and escorted him away. Next
up was Defendant Mrabet, who raised one arm and stated,
" Justices, is it not your duty to protect our right to
self-government? The first . . . overturn Citizens United.
One person, one vote!" Id. She, too, was
restrained and taken from the courtroom. Defendant Saffle
then initiated a fourth interruption by stating, "
Justices, is it not your job to ensure free, fair
elections?" Id. at 5. Saffle's outburst met
the same response. At this point, Chief Justice Roberts spoke
from the bench to warn audience members against further
demonstrations: " Anyone else interested in talking will
be admonished that it's within the authority of this
Court to punish such disturbances by criminal contempt."
Id. Immediately thereafter, Defendant Bronstein
began singing, " We who believe in freedom shall not
rest; we who believe in freedom shall not rest."
Id. Bronstein was detained and escorted out of the
these verbal interruptions lasted " approximately two to
four minutes." Id. Each defendant was arrested,
and the arresting officers--with the aid of other Supreme
Court employees--processed the defendants elsewhere in the
building. All five defendants were transported to the U.S.
Capitol Police station later that day to conclude the arrest
process. Two days later, on April 3, 2015, the U.S.
Attorney's office filed a two-count criminal information
against all five defendants. See Information, ECF No. 1.
Count One alleged that each of the five, " with the
intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the
administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing
any judge, juror, witness, or court officer in the discharge
of their duties, did demonstrate in or near a building
housing a court of the United States," in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 1507. Count Two charged all five defendants
with "  unlawfully mak[ing] a harangue or oration, or
 utter[ing] loud, threatening, or abusive language in the
Supreme Court Building or grounds," in violation of 40
U.S.C. § 6134. For the sake of simplicity, the parties
have christened § 6134's two relevant clauses the
" Harangue Clause" and the " Uttering
Clause." The Court adopts this terminology.
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
14, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss Count Two as resting on
a facially unconstitutional statute. They advanced two sets
of arguments. First, noting that they had been charged with
violating the Harangue and Uttering Clauses in their
entirety, Defendants contended that select portions of those
clauses were unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the
First Amendment. Because the phrase " Supreme Court . .
. grounds" includes the surrounding sidewalks, which
have been held to be a " public forum" for purposes
of First Amendment doctrine--see United States v.
Grace, 461 U.S. 171, 180, 103 S.Ct. 1702, 75 L.Ed.2d 736
(1983)--Defendants claimed that the Harangue and Uttering
Clauses restrict too much protected speech and are therefore
facially unconstitutional. And second, Defendants argued that
both clauses were unconstitutionally vague on their face so
as to violate the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
Specifically, they claimed that a prohibition of "
loud" language gives visitors " no criteria . . .
to determine whether their speech will be criminal" and
" vests too much discretion in the police."
Defs.' Mot. Dismiss (" Mot. Dismiss" ) 13. The
Harangue Clause, too, allegedly " places unfettered
discretion in the police" in criminalizing "
harangue[s]" and " oration[s]" in the Supreme
Court building and grounds. Id. at 6.
brief in opposition, the Government clarified that it did not
intend to prove that Defendants uttered "
threatening" or " abusive" language, or that
they violated § 6134 anywhere in the Supreme Court
" grounds" other than the building itself. See
Opp'n 14, 17. But rather than obviate Defendants'
First Amendment challenge by superseding the Information with
a more narrowly tailored charging document, the Government
responded in kind. It argued that Defendants lacked standing
to challenge parts of § 6134 that they were not actually
accused of violating and that the Harangue and Uttering
Clauses passed muster under conventional First Amendment
oral hearing held on September 29, 2015, the Government
agreed to file a Superseding Information, which it did on
October 1, 2015. Count Two now contains no reference to
" abusive" or " threatening" language or
the Supreme Court grounds as a whole--it simply charges
Defendants with " unlawfully mak[ing] a harangue or
oration or utter[ing] loud language in the Supreme Court
Building." Superseding Information 2, ECF No. 38.
Defendants subsequently informed the Court that they no
longer intended to challenge Count Two on First Amendment
grounds. But they " do continue to urge the Court to
[d]ismiss Count Two on vagueness grounds" as requested
in their motion to dismiss. Status Rep. of Oct. 13, 2015, ECF
No. 39, at 1. The Court must therefore decide whether the Due
Process Clause permits a prosecution for making a "
harangue" or an " oration," or uttering "
loud" language, in the Supreme Court building.