View from the Courtroom: Disruption from the gallery on fifth anniversary of Citizens United (Updated: 4:00 p.m.)
on Jan 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm
UPDATE (4:00 p.m.): Kathleen L. Arberg, the Court’s public information officer, said eight individuals were arrested in Wednesday’s disturbance. Seven have been charged with violating a federal law against making “a harangue or oration, or utter[ing] loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building,” as well as with violating two Court regulations.
Arberg said those seven, along with the eighth individual, were also charged with “conspiracy-related offenses” under District of Columbia law.
The eight individuals, whose identities were not released by the Court, were taken to a U.S. Capitol Police facility for processing; they were to then be taken to Washington’s city police department, known as the Metropolitan Police Department.
The group 99Rise, which was behind last year’s outburst by a protestor (and the later release of secretly recorded video from inside the courtroom), claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s protest.
“Stand with the Supreme Court 7” the group’s website said. “Today, 7 courageous 99Rise leaders stood up in the chamber of the United States Supreme Court to interrupt the justices, speak out against corruption, and call on Americans to take action to defend democracy.”
Kai Newkirk, the leader of 99Rise and the person who disrupted the Court in February 2014, said in an interview that “the movement is not just me” and that Wednesday’s protesters were standing up against the Citizens United decision.
Newkirk said he was not present in the courtroom because he is still barred from the premises based on his conviction in the 2014 event.
“We captured video” of Wednesday’s protests, Newkirk indicated, and the video will be posted to the Web within days.
Last year’s video by an undetected camera led the Court’s police force to step up screening procedures for those entering the courtroom.
A handful of spectators disrupted the opening of Wednesday morning’s Supreme Court session by rising one by one from their seats to shout protests over the Citizens United decision and other populist themes on the fifth anniversary of the controversial ruling.
Just after the Justices had taken the bench at 10 a.m., and as they were about to announce opinions, a woman stood from her seat near the back of the courtroom and said, “I rise on behalf of democracy.” She continued with a mention of Citizens United, the 2010 ruling that removed limits on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. Three Supreme Court police officers quickly converged on her, causing a loud commotion as they pushed through an area of the courtroom where single wooden chairs are in use, forcefully subdued her, and then removed her from the courtroom.
As what at first seemed like the lone demonstrator was removed, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. quipped, “Our second order of business this morning …” to laughs from the crowded courtroom.
But before he could finish that thought, a second demonstrators stood and said, “One person, one vote.” It was perhaps a continuation of the Citizens United theme, or a reference to a key phrase from the Court’s voting rights jurisprudence. As the second protestor was being approached by officers, a third and a fourth one stood and uttered similar lines.
The Chief Justice was heard to mutter, “Oh, please.”
As more officers entered the courtroom to deal with those protestors, a man in a back corner stood and said, “We are the ninety-nine percent,” a populist slogan referring to those not in the wealthiest one percent of the nation. After he delivered the line, this protestor looked around nervously as there were no police officers immediately near him.
As another protestor rose near the same corner, the Chief Justice felt obliged to come to the aid of the police force. “We have a couple of more over here,” Roberts said, pointing to the corner.
After six or seven demonstrators had said their lines and were removed, which had taken several minutes, it appeared the protest was over.
“We will now continue with our tradition of having open court in the Supreme Court,” Chief Justice Roberts said. He announced that Justice Sonia Sotomayor would deliver the first opinion of the day, and the rhythms of the courtroom soon settled back to normalcy.
The Court’s Public Information Office said it was checking on whether the demonstrators had been arrested.