The state of Massachusetts must pay the attorneys for plaintiffs in its buffer zone case $1.24 million, under terms of a settlement agreement. This has implications for New Hampshire’s buffer zone law, modeled on the Massachusetts law struck down in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Will New Hampshire officials have to hit up the taxpayers for a similar settlement, or will they do the sensible thing and drop the case? Will the New Hampshire House and Senate make that decision for us by repealing the buffer zone law?
A reliable source has given me the details of the settlement agreement, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on December 15, 2014. The State of Massachusetts has 90 days to make the payments totaling $1.24 million.
Eleanor McCullen and six other plaintiffs filed suit in 2008 challenging the constitutionality of Massachusetts’ buffer zone law on First Amendment grounds. In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that a law restricting First Amendment rights outside abortion facilities could not be upheld before the state first enforced less drastic remedies. This parallels the New Hampshire law, which was signed by Governor Maggie Hassan after the Supreme Court ruled in the McCullen case. Operators of New Hampshire abortion facilities were unable to produce any recent police records about peaceful pro-life witnesses violating any law by praying outside facilities.
Seven Massachusetts plaintiffs prevailed, and now Massachusetts reportedly owes their attorneys more than a million dollars. New Hampshire’s law is being challenged by seven plaintiffs, too. How much will our state owe their attorneys before giving up on the law?
The New Hampshire case, Reddy v. Foster, has been in a strange place ever since Sister Mary Rose Reddy and her fellow plaintiffs brought suit. A federal district court judge issued a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the law. Attorney General Joseph Foster, who is supposed to defend the law, agreed not to enforce it for now. Abortion providers agreed not to put up “buffer zone” signs at their facilities. The state holds that since the law isn’t being enforced, the plaintiffs have no case. The judge has yet to rule on that issue.
Perhaps the judge is waiting for January, when the legislature will have a buffer zone repeal bill to consider, filed by Rep. Kathy Souza (R-Manchester). Once the law is repealed, the case will go away.
Instead of being strictly a “social” issue, the buffer zone law is now a fiscal concern. Let’s see how many New Hampshire legislators want to pay – or rather, make YOU pay – to keep the law in place.