The police have consistently enforced the ban against protests on the plaza. During all of the court’s highest profile and most controversial cases – involving abortion, civil rights, affirmative action, the Affordable Care Act, and others – throngs of supporters and opponents routinely jammed the sidewalk on First Street NE in front of the court.
As the crowd swelled, the sea of earnest humanity would spill onto Maryland Avenue to the north and down the sidewalk toward the Library of Congress. But through it all, the protests have never surged forward past the line of police officers to occupy the white-marble plaza with its fountains, benches, and flag pole.
Now, that may change.
The decision comes in the case of a Maryland man, Harold Hodge, who was arrested in January 2011 for standing silently on the marble plaza while wearing a 3-by-2-foot sign around his neck.
The sign read: “The US Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans and Hispanic People.”
A member of the Supreme Court’s police force advised Mr. Hodge, who is African-American, that such protests were not allowed on the plaza. If he wanted to display his sign and make a political point he needed to move to the concrete sidewalk.
Hodge firmly but quietly refused. The officer delivered three warnings. He then placed Hodge in handcuffs and led him to a cell inside the Supreme Court building.
Hodge was charged with violating Section 6135 of the US Code. It reads in full: “It is unlawful to parade, stand, or move in procession or assemblages in the Supreme Court Building or grounds, or to display in the Building and grounds a flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement.”