WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court yesterday ended a decade-long fight over the use by anti-abortion activists of "wanted" posters to identify clinic doctors.
Activists who created Wild West-style posters and the Nuremberg Files Web site targeting abortion doctors had been ordered to pay nearly $5 million in damages, and the Court refused without comment to take up their appeal in American Coalition of Life Activists v. Planned Parenthood.
The 12 activists and two anti-abortion groups were sued under a racketeering law and the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it illegal to incite violence and threaten abortion doctors.
A Portland, Ore., jury had first awarded several doctors and clinics $108 million in punitive damages, but that was reduced by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The anti-abortion groups appealed to the high court, saying that the amount should be reduced more. The Court yesterday refused to hear the appeal in American Coalition of Life Activists v. Planned Parenthood, 05-1083.
"This Court has long taught that public forum political speech merits the highest possible protection — including alleged threats," Edward White III, the attorney for the anti-abortion activists, said in a court filing.
White, who is trial counsel for the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said yesterday that the case, which dates to 1995, "affects any group that is involved in robust debate, especially on controversial topics." He said anti-abortion activists no longer use protest posters because of concerns about lawsuits.
Lawyers for the clinics and doctors said that the latest appeal was a rehash of a similar appeal in the same case, which was rejected by the Supreme Court three years ago.
Maria Vullo, the lawyer for Planned Parenthood, said the Supreme Court had "finally put an end to re-litigation of these issues." She said her clients did not contest the reduction of the punitive damages to $4.73 million.
"This case has never been about the money. It's about protecting doctors' lives," she said.