As usual, the Supreme Court is saving its biggest opinions until last. The Court issued three opinions today, and none were among the blockbusters that will be decided before the end of June (on the Second Amendment, punitive damages, Guantánamo detainees, and the death penalty.) Two of the decisions issued Tuesday (Gomez-Perez v. Potter and CBOCS West v. Humphries,) affirmed that federal workplace anti- discrimination statutes protect workers from retaliation for reporting bias. The third, Riley v. Kennedy, offered a narrow view of Voting Rights Act preclearance rules. The Court won't sit again until next Monday to issue opinions.
At about the same time the Supreme Court was issuing its decisions, an important trial about the Supreme Court was getting underway at the D.C. Superior Court. Thirty-five antiwar demonstrators who were arrested inside and outside the Supreme Court on January 11 went on trial for violating 40 U.S.C. 6135, which makes it unlawful to "parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages" in the Court building or grounds or to display a "flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement." That unusual wording has been defended by the government as serving the goal of not giving the public the idea that the Supreme Court can be swayed in its decision-making by public opinion or protests.
Most of the defendants in court Tuesday were dressed in orange jumpsuits not government-issued prison garb, but rather suits meant to symbolize Guantánamo detainees. As the defendants' names were called, each one stood and said he or she was there to symbolize a named Guantánamo detainee. One defendant Malachy MacBride, said he was there to advocate shutting down "Guantánamo Concentration Camp." All are representing themselves pro se, but they are aided by lawyer Mark Goldstone, a veteran defender of demonstrators arrested at the Supreme Court. Judge Wendell Gardner Jr. discouraged speechifying, but allowed some opening remarks that went beyond the facts of the case.
In her opening statement Assistant U.S. Attorney Magdalena Acevedo said flatly, "This case is not about Guantánamo. This case is not about free speech." Instead, she said, it was about the defendants violating a law about where they could demonstrate, even after repeated warnings. Demonstrations are allowed on the public sidewalk in front of the Court, but the forbidden activity began when the protestors went up the eight marble steps onto the Court's plaza. (For photos of the demonstration, check the Witness Against Torture Web site.) The trial is expected to last several days.