Scheidler and Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women (NOW)

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  • Anti-Choice Violence
  • Joined Amicus Brief
2006

Determined the application of certain federal criminal statutes to violence and obstructive conduct aimed at abortion clinics, their patients and doctors.

Scheidler v. National Organization for Women and Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women, 547 U.S. 9

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum supported an amici curiae brief to the Supreme Court in these cases, which resolved twenty years of litigation against anti-abortion protesters whose violent obstruction of women's access to reproductive health services was condemned by a jury verdict years ago.

Background of the Cases

The cases began in 1986, when the National Organization for Women (NOW) and two abortion providers brought a class action suit against antiabortion groups that had engaged in violent, obstructive, and threatening conduct aimed at patients and abortion clinic workers in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In 1994, the Supreme Court reversed lower court rulings and ruled that RICO does not require proof that either the racketeering enterprise or the predicate acts were motivated by an economic purpose. National Organization for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249 (1994). On remand, a jury found for the plaintiffs and awarded them significant damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment. In 2002, the Court again agreed to hear defendants' appeal and ruled that defendants had not committed extortion because they did not "obtain" property from plaintiffs as required to satisfy the extortion provision of the Hobbs Act, the predicate RICO crime under which plaintiffs sought private injunctive relief. NOW v. Scheidler, 537 U.S. 393 (2003).

After that ruling, the Seventh Circuit did not simply vacate the prior judgment in favor of plaintiffs; rather, it asked the district court to decide whether four other acts found by the jury, involving "acts or threats of physical violence to any person or property," could support a Hobbs Act claim and, in turn, a more narrow injunction. The Supreme Court, however, determined that its prior ruling had entirely disposed of the cases, and directed the courts below to dismiss the claims in their entirety.

Outcome of the Cases

While the outcome left those wronged by the defendants in the case without a remedy, it is not a significant blow to clinic safety. That is because women and reproductive health care providers now rely on the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act-not RICO-to protect them against those who would use force, threats of force, or physical obstruction to interfere with reproductive health services. Legal Momentum joined a brief as amicus curiae in the case, demonstrating to the Court that finding the defendants liable in this case would not threaten established First Amendment rights of protest.