The United States Supreme Court held 9-0 on June 26 that a Massachusetts law providing a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in the state is an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.
The case, McCullen v. Coakley, was argued before the Justices on January 15 by Catholic University law school Professor Mark Rienzi as lead counsel for the plaintiffs. It had been moving through the courts since 2008, the year Rienzi engaged with the cause on a pro bono basis when Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit.
The case was brought by Eleanor McCullen, a Massachusetts grandmother who had spent years and more than 50-thousand dollars of her own money to help pregnant women who decide not to get an abortion.
Her lawsuit contended that being forced to keep her distance on a public sidewalk, and thus unable to effectively communicate her offer of help to women entering an abortion clinic, was an impermissible infringement of free speech.
Rienzi has said about the case, ““I represent peaceful pro-life grandmothers who want to stand on the sidewalk and offer alternative options to women going to the clinic.”
Rienzi rehearsed for the January oral argument (left) by participating in a 90-minute practice moot, where volunteer “justices” played the part of members of the high court and fired anticipated questions at him.
Rienzi has also explored the constitutional free speech issues in play through media interviews and op-eds, as well as in scholarly articles such as “Neutral No More: Secondary Effects Analysis and the Quiet Demise of the Content-Neutrality Test” (with Stuart Buck, 82 Fordham Law Review, Issue 3, 2013).
"The Law School community congratulates Professor Rienzi on his superb and successful advocacy in this important First Amendment case,” said Daniel F. Attridge, Dean and Knights of Columbus Professor for CUA Law. “It is not easy to persuade the Justices to reach a unanimous judgment, and it is a testament to Mark’s skill, preparedness, and belief in the rightness of the cause that he was able to do so."