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The Right to Protest – Condemned in the Same Courthouse as Sacco and Vanzetti

Sacco and Vanzetti were railroaded here, and the stench of injustice remains in the courthouse to this day.

The Karen Read case is, to put it lightly, high profile in Massachusetts. Many believe that she is being framed for a murder.  Others find that ridiculous, and think those who believe it are conspiracy theorists.  The New York Post has a good primer on the case, here.


I am agnostic about Karen Reed’s guilt or innocence.  Nevertheless, in the prosecution, the First Amendment has been under attack by the Government, and as of the date of this post, the Massachusetts courts have supported that attack.


I initially leaned toward thinking that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wouldn’t ever frame a murder suspect, even if that case was taking place in the exact same courthouse where Sacco and Vanzetti were railroaded.


I was very skeptical of claims of prosecutorial misconduct.  I wasn’t quite yelling “fry Karen Read,” but I presumed the best of the Commonwealth.  After all, why would they frame someone?  The “Free Karen Read” crowd had to convince me, and they had not done so.


Then the Commonwealth went after a journalist – who may be passionate about the case, but I do not think did anything that was not First Amendment protected.  (Disclosure, I represent that journalist in an unrelated matter, and this post should not be considered to be speaking on his behalf).


Governments that are acting legitimately do not arrest journalists.


Then, the Commonwealth asked that all protest around the courthouse be banned.


We challenged the unconstitutional request by the Commonwealth that no demonstrations may take place, even far outside the Courthouse. (Doc) The trial court responded, shall we say “vituperatively” to our efforts.  It denied even the right to be heard before the people lose their right to protest.  It then issued an order that nobody may demonstrate, anywhere within 200 feet of the courthouse.  This was even over the objection of a very helpful amicus brief from the ACLU of Massachusetts, which the court claimed to have respected, but it didn’t seem to have taken any of the ACLU’s concerns into account.


We took this to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC).  We brought the petition to the SJC on behalf of both the four people who tried to intervene at the trial court level (doc), and on behalf of hundreds of people who want to maintain the right to protest in Dedham. (Doc)  Naturally, the Commonwealth opposed us (doc) and we replied, pointing out some obvious flaws in their arguments.  (Doc).


This appeal was to a single justice of the SJC.  That single justice ruled against us, resoundingly.  The single justice ruled that it was a compelling governmental interest, to maintain an orderly trial.  We do not necessarily disagree—a fair trial is in everyone’s interest.  However, the single justice simply ignored the questions of alternate means to narrowly tailor the relief, to leave the First Amendment at least a bit more intact.  He also ignored the question of whether a judge has the power to issue an order over non-parties to a case, outside courthouse grounds.  If the judge can ban protest 200 feet from her courthouse, why not 200 miles?  Where does she get power over someone not in her courtroom, not in her case?  And, if it is better that 100 guilty people go free than one innocent suffer, what of the hundreds of innocent residents of Massachusetts who suffer the loss of their liberty in the service of achieving a conviction here?


We are currently appealing to the full SJC. (Doc)  In what may seem to be a strange admission, we are not optimistic about our chances.  The courts so far have not seemed to like our clients.  Any question we have presented, where the courts might need to make an uncomfortable decision that could cut against statism, they’ve simply ignored the question.


Why are we continuing to appeal?  Because it is the right thing to do.  Liberty may go down in this case, but she can’t go down without a fight.


Special thanks to the Center for American Liberty for supporting this case.

UPDATE:  On April 26, the full Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that it was not going to overturn the decision.  We do not yet have the full decision, as they have not published it yet.  To say that we are surprised would not be true.  To say that we are disappointed would be an understatement.  Perhaps the decision is principled, but at this time, we lack the imagination to dream of how it could be.

But, here we are.


Main Case documents:

Trial Court
Motion to intervene by Four Citizens –

ACLU’s Amicus Brief:


Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Documents

Memo of Law on Behalf of Intervenors –

Memo of Law on Behalf of the Freedom to Protest Coalition:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Opposition –

Reply on behalf of all parties –

Decision & Order upholding the Prior Restraint Zone –

Petition to be heard by the Full Supreme Judicial Court:



Full Consolidated Appeal Memorandum to the Full Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Answering Brief:

Petitioners’ Reply Brief:

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