Lawsuit over Jackson’s free speech ban outside abortion clinic sent back to state court

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Chief District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III sent a free speech lawsuit filed by the Mississippi Justice Institute back to state court and ordered the city of Jackson to pay the attorneys’ fees incurred by the plaintiffs while opposing the city’s attempt to move the case to federal court. 

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of an ordinance recently enacted by the city of Jackson, which bans free speech outside of the state’s only abortion clinic. MJI is representing the plaintiffs, who are members of Sidewalk Advocates of Life – Jackson, Mississippi. 

In an opinion issued today, Jordan sided with MJI’s motion to remand the case back to state court, stating, “It is up to Mississippi’s courts to interpret the state’s constitution and develop the state’s constitutional law. The Court is hard-pressed to find a reasonable basis justifying removal in this case. All of Plaintiffs’ claims allege that the ordinance violated their rights under the Mississippi Constitution. As to Plaintiffs’ free-speech claim, the city said that Plaintiffs necessarily raised a federal issue because their claim concerns an abortion-related law, which ‘is at the center of controversial and evolving federal jurisprudence[.]’ That may be true, but the city cites no case law—nor can the Court find any—from which it could reasonably conclude that this could form the basis of federal-question jurisdiction. As explained, the case law, and basic principles of federalism, are to the contrary.”  

The city’s ordinance bans individuals who are near health facilities from approaching within eight feet of any person without consent, for the purpose of engaging in various forms of speech such as counseling, education, or distributing leaflets; bans people from congregating or demonstrating within 15 feet of the abortion facility, and bans any amplified sound. Violations of the ordinance could result in fines of up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail. 

The order granting motion to remand can be found here

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