So, which law is it? Is the First Amendment right to peaceful protest, or is United States law 18 U.S.C. § 1507 the law we employ for guidance on peaceful protests? I hear both quoted and both used in the recent and ongoing protests.
A bit of background: I was in Washington, D.C., last weekend. My visit included plans to take some new pictures for my website (civicsandcitizenship.org ) and social media. There was some talk about going to the Capitol, as I was willing to work with fencing or whatever else. The “whatever else” would include cold, rainy weather and the initial, loud, and emotional protests in the area, including the Supreme Court. Rain doesn’t stop me. Americans shouting expletives at each other and a proven track record of capturing images of anyone in the vicinity of “activity” that could turn violent does. So, I declined, but I haven’t stopped thinking about how different sides apply the law in this case.
I’m not a lawyer, but legal justice matters to me. I’m hearing mixed signals about which law applies to these recent protests. So here’s the text of the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Constitution calls itself the supreme law of the Land. The Supremacy clause appears in Article VI. Here’s where we get an “aha!” moment. Article VI mentions three things, not just one. They are the Constitution, the laws of the national government (which must be consistent with the Constitution), and treaties.
“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land….”
Now, here is the text of 18 U.S.C. § 1507:
“Whoever, with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty, pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the United States, or in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer, or with such intent uses any sound-truck or similar device or resorts to any other demonstration in or near any such building or residence, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
Nothing in this section shall interfere with or prevent the exercise by any court of the United States of its power to punish for contempt.”
One side says peaceful protests and presenting the government for a redress of grievances is the law to apply. The streets and sidewalks are public. The other side says the U.S. Code is applicable here because the very act of picketing with the intent to influence “near any such building or residence” is punishable by law.
Which is the law to apply here? It will be interesting to see what is considered a “peaceable assembly” and the “right to petition the government.” It will also be interesting to see how the U.S. Code will be applied equally to all protests.
We’re Americans. It’s our government. We all have a stake in the application of the law.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸