Impact: How Supreme Court Wins Affect Other ADF Cases
As rewarding as it is for Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and their allies to win a major case at the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s even more rewarding to see the direct (and often, near-immediate) impact of those decisions on other, similar cases across the country.
No sooner had the High Court handed down a favorable decision for the ministry’s client in Town of Greece v. Galloway last May—securing the right of elected officials in Greece, New York to open their public meetings with prayer—than legal logjams began to break in a number of related cases coast to coast.
In Forsyth County, North Carolina, for instance, a federal district court had already ruled against county officials, issuing an injunction that forbade them from opening their meetings with voluntary invocations offered by local citizens unless those prayers were purged of any distinctly Christian references. But soon after the Greece decision, the court responded to a petition from ADF attorneys by lifting that injunction.
“When the Supreme Court speaks, that one case becomes binding precedent and resets the legal stage for the whole nation,” says ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey, who helped represent the town of Greece.
"When the Supreme Court speaks, that one case becomes binding precedent and resets the legal stage for the whole nation." Brett Harvey
“Every court in the country views the legal challenges related to that case through a new lens. That is why it is so important to have a voice at the Supreme Court.”
State by state, he says, the lens on public prayers is shifting, as other courts now rethink their positions on cases similar to Greece. What’s more, Harvey says, ADF attorneys “are hearing almost every day from local officials all over the nation, asking for advice in shaping their own public prayer policies, or wondering if their existing policy is consistent with federal law.”
ADF attorneys focused on preserving the sanctity of life are seeing a similar impact from last June’s Supreme Court decision in McCullen v. Coakley, in which the court struck down as unconstitutional a censorship zone created by Massachusetts officials to keep pro-life advocates from approaching women outside abortion facilities and offering them help. (See story, p. 8.)
“The government cannot muzzle speech just because it doesn’t reflect the views of those who promote abortion,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, adding that the McCullen decision (successfully argued by ADF Allied Attorneys) provided a legal precedent that has enabled the ministry to move several similar pro-life speech cases into the “win” column.
In Madison, Wisconsin, for instance, city officials waited less than two months after the McCullen decision before voting to rescind a law that had created hundreds of censorship zones throughout that city. These so-called “bubbles,” 200 feet in diameter, were enforced around the entrances of every building that offered medical services, and blocked anyone from approaching within eight feet of another person—on public sidewalks—to offer leaflets, display a sign, or offer a word of information, protest, or even friendly counsel. The removal of the law ended an ADF lawsuit against the city on behalf of pro-life advocates, who were now freed to resume their constitutionally protected efforts on behalf of babies in the womb.
ADF was also able to secure—within weeks of McCullen—a court order blocking enforcement of a New Hampshire law about to be used to create 25-foot zones in which speech would be censored on public ways and sidewalks outside of that state’s abortion facilities. Ministry attorneys have also presented oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging similar speech zones in Pittsburgh.
But a Supreme Court victory can affect more than just the legal results of other cases, Bowman says. It can also impact the attitude of the wider legal culture toward defendants and issues.
“When we can assist good attorneys to litigate on behalf of good clients, like we did in McCullen,” he says, “it not only gives us a win that applies to all federal cases nationally; it can also influence how others view our clients. The Supreme Court, for instance, talked about Eleanor McCullen as a caring advocate who genuinely wants to help mothers and their children, and who offers women alternatives to abortion and help pursuing those options.”
“The impact of a Supreme Court victory is so big, it sets into motion waves in the legal waters that ripple for years to come,” Harvey says. “ADF has been involved in cases at the Supreme Court that have yielded legal principles that, in turn, have impacted literally thousands of cases.”
In the case of Greece, he says, “the legal principles established in securing the freedom of people to openly pray as they feel led—even in public—pushed back on more than 40 years of bad precedent, and may fundamentally change the way those freedoms are viewed for generations.”