Field guide to the buffer zone suit that you’re paying for

Five of New Hampshire’s county attorneys have found themselves in a position they never sought: they’ve been called upon to defend New Hampshire’s buffer zone law, due to go into effect this week. Apparently, the conversations that preceded the introduction and passage of New Hampshire’s anti-speech law didn’t include the local prosecutors. Regrettable oversight, that.

Yesterday came the civil rights lawsuit that every supporter of the law should have expected, in defense of the First Amendment. Seven New Hampshire residents committed to peaceful pro-life witness are pleading for an injunction to prevent enforcement of the law.

This afternoon, according to a Twitter post by Nashua Telegraph reporter Kevin Landrigan, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said it has “no present intentions” to post the zones. Tough to tell from that one line if the lawsuit factored into that decision.

The plaintiffs, and the attorneys standing with them

The seven plaintiffs aren’t alone as they approach federal court in Reddy v. Foster. The Alliance Defending Freedom is on the job (here’s their press release about the case). Among the allied attorneys is Mark Rienzi, who was involved in the Massachusetts buffer zone case, which yielded the 9-0 Supreme Court smackdown of the Massachusetts law. Another allied attorney on the case is Manchester’s Michael Tierney, who has found his way into other posts on this blog. (He was also one of my 2013 Underrated Activists.)

The case is named for the first-listed plaintiff: Sister Mary Rose Reddy. She wouldn’t know me, but I have been a fan of hers for a long time. She and her co-workers have worked for years providing care for countless New Hampshire children from troubled families. She’s a nun with the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Healing Love, and her ministry has been at the St. Charles Home in Rochester. These “Running Nuns” started a nationally-renowned running program for the children they serve. (Anyone’s who been to a Seacoast-area race in the past decade has seen the red singlets of the St. Charles Eagles.) Her community also has a suicide-prevention ministry. She did what she could as a citizen by testifying against the buffer zone bill in Concord, to no avail. She didn’t go looking for this case, I’m sure, but she’s not ducking it. When I look at her, I see a dynamic woman, her life devoted to serving children, living a counter-cultural life that’s an example of peaceful witness.

And then there’s Jennifer Robidoux. I met her when I covered the Fall 2013 40 Days for Life campaign in Manchester. I know firsthand how committed she is to peaceful, prayerful presence at abortion facilities. When I challenged readers a few months ago to invite people to like the blog’s Facebook page, pledging an hour to 40DFL for each new follower, Jen pulled out all the stops – and now I “owe” thirteen hours to the next 40DFL campaign. She’s good-humored, hardworking, and outspoken. As with Sister Mary Rose, this is not a woman who gets up in the morning wondering whom she can sue. She has plenty to keep her busy. She cares about the women entering abortion facilities, even if they’re not coming for abortions. She believes it’s worth bearing peaceful witness to the fact that money is exchanged for dead children – excuse me, “terminations” – in those buildings. She cares enough about her country to take its founding document seriously. Litigation to vindicate her rights is her last resort.

Sue Clifton, Joan Espinola, Terry Barnum, Jackie Pelletier, and Betty Buzzell round out the list of plaintiffs. I know some of them, going back quite a way. I met Terry briefly when Concord considered its own 35-foot buffer zone. These are gutsy people. They’re not after material gain; they’ll be lucky if they’re awarded attorney’s fees. They’ll be called nasty names. They’ll be accused of waging war on women (never mind the fact that six of them ARE women). They’ll probably be used as campaign fodder by abortion advocates. And still, there they stand.

The defendants – and your tax dollars at work

Defendants are Attorney General Joe Foster; the municipalities of Manchester, Concord, Greenland, Keene, and Derry, home to abortion facilities; and the county attorneys in Hillsborough, Merrimack, Strafford, Cheshire and Rockingham counties.

Translation: town, county and state tax dollars are going to be spent to defend this offensive, insulting, totally unnecessary and apparently unconstitutional law. That’s your money and mine. Those funds could have been spent enforcing existing laws against trespass and disorderly conduct outside abortion facilities, if there had actually been such violations. There were none reported to police, so abortion defenders had to go to their friends in the legislature to invent a law that could be used to criminalize peaceful pro-life witness. A bipartisan group of friends, I hasten to add.

This waste of taxpayer funds on circumvention of the First Amendment was created by the people who sponsored, voted for, and promoted the law. It’s a pity that the sponsors and Governor Hassan can’t be held personally liable, given their unyielding support for the bill even after McCullen. I think the signing-ceremony photo op might backfire.

What’s at issue: reading the complaint

Click here for the full text of the 30-page complaint, kicking off the lawsuit.

Which court? The suit is being filed in United States District Court, alleging violation of constitutional rights pursuant to federal civil rights laws.

What are the plaintiffs asserting? They claim violation of their First Amendment rights to freedom speech and of the press, their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, and their rights to free speech and equal protection under the New Hampshire Constitution. “The state of New Hampshire has no justification for creating even one of these anti-speech zones in traditional public fora, much less creating such zones throughout the entire state. The First Amendment contemplates no possible justification for such a measure….McCullen [the Massachusetts case] directly controls this case and eliminates any plausible legal justification for the law challenged here.”

What remedy do the plaintiffs seek? They want New Hampshire’s buffer zone law declared unconstitutional. They want an immediate injunction against the law to prevent it from being enforced. “Injunctive relief will preserve the status quo of robust freedom of speech in New Hampshire, which has caused no cognizable public or personal harm and has instead yielded great public benefit.”  Plaintiffs are also asking to be awarded their legal fees.

Awarding legal fees to the plaintiffs would serve the sponsors right. Unfortunately, the sponsors wouldn’t feel the pinch. We all would. Recall that in 2009 New Hampshire paid PPNNE $300,000 to settle a claim for legal fees after PP took New Hampshire’s first parental notification law to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, then-Attorney General Kelly Ayotte approved the settlement, because she can do arithmetic. PP can afford protracted litigation; the state cannot. I remember that Ayotte herself defended the law in Court.

This kind of case takes time. I wonder if the sponsors will still be in office when the case runs its course. One thing’s for sure: the sponsors made certain that one way or another, we’ll all be paying for the buffer zone law.

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Field guide to the buffer zone suit that you’re paying for”

  1. Thank you, Ellen, for writing this article. You did a great job 🙂 I am one of the plaintiffs. You may not remember me, but I have seen you many times at our pro-life events. God bless you for all you do for the Culture of Life!

    1. I sure do remember you, Jackie. Thank you for stepping up to join the effort to roll back this awful law! I’m one of many people who will be praying & cheering for you as the case makes its way through the courts. Of course, the legislature could just repeal the blasted law and save everyone a lot of trouble.

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