High court turns away 2 abortion-related cases

Monday, October 6, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today rejected for the third time an appeal by anti-abortion activists to undo a multimillion-dollar verdict for their use of “wanted” posters to identify abortion-clinic doctors. And in a second abortion-related case, a group won its long legal fight to force Arizona to issue “Choose Life” license plates, after the high court declined to hear the state’s appeal.

In the wanted-posters case, American Coalition of Life Activists v. Planned Parenthood, 07-1546, the justices did not comment today in turning down a dozen individuals and two groups that oppose abortion rights. The Court turned down similar appeals in 2003 and 2006.

Four physicians and abortion clinics sued in 1995 after the activists released a Wild West-style poster that named a dozen abortion doctors underneath the headline, “Wanted.” A related Web site, titled the “Nuremberg Files,” declared the doctors guilty of crimes against humanity, and listed their addresses and telephone numbers.

During trial, targeted abortion doctors said they feared for their lives. They testified they used disguises, bodyguards, wore bulletproof vests, and instructed their children to crouch in the bathtub if they heard gunfire.

In 1999, a Portland, Ore., jury awarded the doctors and clinics more than $100 million under racketeering laws and a 1994 federal law that makes it illegal to incite violence against abortion doctors. Courts reduced the judgment to more than $16 million.

The activists said the verdict violated their First Amendment free-speech rights.

In the Arizona case, the justices without comment left in place an appeals court ruling in favor of the Arizona Life Coalition, which has sought the special “Choose Life” plates for six years.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, said the state commission on license plates violated the group's constitutional right to free speech by turning down its application.

The case is Stanton v. Arizona Life Coalition, 07-1366.

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