Constitutional or Not: Government Targeting Disfavored Speech

March 23, 2018

“Today, before the United States Supreme Court justices, I argued on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates that the California law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions is unlawful government-compelled expression” stated Mike Farris, President, CEO, and General Counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), following his oral argument on Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the oral argument Farris was optimistic of the outcome, “California has the heavy burden of justifying its law under the Constitution or else the law must be struck down to give freedom back to the people. After arguments this morning, I am optimistic the justices will find that the state has not carried this burden and will continue their long tradition of giving speech the highest level of protection it deserves.”

Farris described the California law as targeting “disfavored speakers.” He also argued “when the government decides what people should and should not say, other freedoms are sure to disappear soon after. The government exists to serve its people, and not the other way around.”

For his full comments, click here.

For a transcript of the oral argument, click here.

Although we likely will not know the Court’s ruling in NIFLA v. Becerra until the end of June, there are good reasons to believe that the Court will rule in favor of the pregnancy centers and against compelled speech:

  • Amy Howe on SCOTUSblog wrote of the oral argument, “After roughly an hour of oral argument, the law appeared to be in some jeopardy, not only among the court’s conservative justices but also perhaps at least with Justice Elena Kagan, one of the more liberal justices.”
  • Justice Kagan used the word “gerrymandered” to describe the law’s drafting and application, “something,” she said “would be a serious First Amendment problem.”
  • Justice Kennedy opined that the law’s intent appeared to be to “alter the content of the message” and an “undue burden” on free speech.
  • ADF’s Kristen Waggoner provided a firsthand account of the oral argument in an interview with my colleague Jonathan Keller, California Family Council, stating that all the justices expressed concern about what California was doing, especially because it appeared to be unfairly targeting pro-life pregnancy centers with its law.
  • Earlier in the week, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, George Will wrote of this case, “Governments routinely behave badly, but sometimes their mean-spiritedness comes to the Supreme Court’s attention” and that “The pregnancy crisis centers have a right that California’s bullying government also has and that it would do well to exercise more often: the right to remain silent.”

As we wait for the Court’s ruling, let’s pray the Court overturns this overreaching California law and protects the right of pregnancy centers to operate based on their pro-life convictions.

CAP 3/23/18