The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge Monday to a law restricting protests at a prominent Washington, DC location — its own front door.
The justices declined to hear an appeal from from a protester who was arrested for wearing a sign on the court's plaza, the expanse between the public sidewalk and the building's massive front stairway.
Harold Hodge of Maryland challenged a federal law that bars protest or demonstrations, including holding a banner or displaying a sign, on the plaza, which is elevated eight steps above the sidewalk.
The law, passed in 1949, makes it illegal to demonstrate on the Supreme Court grounds. The law was originally interpreted to include the sidewalks around the court building. But the Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that it was unconstitutional to ban free expression on the sidewalk, leaving the plaza restriction intact.
Though the charges against Hodge were dismissed, he challenged the law's remaining limitation on free expression. A federal district court found in his favor, ruling that the law was too broad because it restricted even the distribution of pamphlets or the wearing of T-shirts with school or company logos.
But a federal appeals court reversed. The law is not unconstitutional, the court said, because it is viewpoint-neutral and promotes "the decorum and order befitting courthouses generally and the nation's highest court in particular."