Updated at 4:45 p.m.
A Maryland man is suing U.S. Supreme Court Marshal Pamela Talkin, claiming that the rules barring protesters from displaying signs on the high court's grounds are unconstitutional.
Harold Hodge Jr., according to the complaint (PDF) filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was arrested on Jan. 28, 2011 after he walked up the court's steps wearing a sign around his neck that read: "The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People."
Hodge was arrested by Supreme Court police and charged with violating a federal law that prohibits the display of flags, banners or other signs on the grounds of the high court. He agreed to stay away from the court and its grounds in exchange for having the charge dismissed on Sept. 14 by the U.S. attorney’s office.
According to the complaint, Hodge wants to go back to the Supreme Court to demonstrate, and wants a federal court judge to declare that the rules barring him from bringing a sign violate his First Amendment right to free speech.
“Hodge is deterred and chilled from engaging in peaceful, non-disruptive speech on the plaza of the Supreme Court building,” he wrote in the complaint.
Hodge is being represented by Washington solo practitioner William Farley, who took the case on behalf of The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group that provides legal services in First Amendment cases. Farley did not immediately return a request for comment.
In a written statement, Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead explained why the group is pursuing Hodge’s case: “If the First Amendment doesn’t protect this man’s right to stand approximately 100 feet from the doors of the Supreme Court and exercise his right to free speech—and silent speech, at that—it won’t protect anyone else’s rights.”
Besides Talkin, Hodge also named the city of the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Police Department as defendants. Neither Talkin nor a police department spokeswoman immediately returned requests for comment.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the law enforcement agency that arrested Hodge.