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Hill v. Colorado

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Hill v. Colorado

Hill v. Colorado
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued January 19, 2000
Decided June 28, 2000
Full case name Hill v. Colorado
Citations 530 more)
Subsequent history Statute upheld.
Colorado Rev. Stat. §18–9–122(3) does not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Stevens, joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
Concurrence Souter, joined by O’Connor, Ginsburg, Breyer
Dissent Scalia, joined by Thomas
Dissent Kennedy
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV

Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703 (2000), was a United States Supreme Court decision. The Court ruled 6-3 that the First Amendment right to free speech was not violated by a Colorado law limiting protest, education, distribution of literature or counseling within eight feet of a person entering a health-care facility.

Background of the case

In response to protesting at abortion clinics, Colorado legislated that protesters within one hundred feet of any healthcare facility may not approach within eight feet of any other person (without consent) for the purpose of protest, education, distribution of literature or counseling. The legal question at hand was: does this Colorado law potentially violate the first and fourteenth Amendment rights of citizens who would like to protest, educate or counsel outside of these facilities?

Court's opinion

Justice Stevens wrote the opinion for the majority of the court:

  1. The State has a compelling interest in creating this legislation. Its interest is to protect citizens entering or exiting a medical facility from unwanted communication. This law does not prevent patients from being communicated with entirely; however, it does allow them to better avoid situations in which they wish to not listen to the message of speakers. Even though speakers have a right to persuade, this cannot extend to unwilling listeners because people also have a right “to be let alone.”
  2. As was explained in Ward v. Rock Against Racism, legislation restricting speech in addition to requiring a compelling state interest needs to be content neutral. This is specifically important in time, place and manner legislation. It is content neutral because it does not regulate speech, just one arena for speech. No matter what message a person is trying to convey, this statute would apply. This legislation is not viewpoint based simply because it was enacted in response to issues being raised by a certain viewpoint.
  3. This legislation is narrowly tailored to meet the Ward requirements. Also, as the Court explained in Ward, even if the statute is not the least restrictive policy that could satisfy the state’s compelling interest, it is sufficient because it leaves open other channels of communication.
  4. This statute does not completely prevent demonstrators from getting their points heard. Citizens may still yell, hold signs and convince from eight feet away. The only thing that is seriously impeded is their ability to distribute literature. However, demonstrators can still hand out leaflets to willing recipients.
  5. Protecting the well being of patients entering or exiting healthcare facilities is specifically targeted by this legislation because they are more likely to be emotionally and physically vulnerable.
  6. “Prior restraint” arguments claiming that Colorado is putting a prior restraint on constitutionally protected speech are wrong. Prior restraint is only an issue in government censorship cases where in this case individuals can choose to deny or permit communication.

Souter's concurring opinion

Justices Souter, O’Connor, Ginsburg and Breyer, concurring:

  1. This legislation seeks to prevent unwanted approaching, not speech.

Scalia's dissenting opinion

Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting:

  1. This law is not content neutral as it is obviously only being applied to abortion clinics and anti-abortion messages.
  2. Protecting citizens from unwanted speech is not a compelling state interest.
  3. The amount of places actually being covered by this statute is very large if one considers the extensive amount of healthcare facilities there are. So, speech is being restricted very significantly.
  4. This law removes one of the few outlets in which peaceful and civil pro-life citizens could get their point across to women considering abortion; now only inappropriate bullying groups will be heard.
  5. This opinion of the court is in conflict with other First Amendment restriction cases. The only reason the Court is changing now is because the messages are not content neutral – it is about abortion.

Kennedy's dissenting opinion

  1. This legislation is definitely content based and is in direct violation of the First Amendment.

See also


Hill v. Colorado, SCOTUS 2000).

External links

  • Text of Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703 (2000) is available from:  Justia 

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