SCHENCK v. PRO-CHOICE NETWORK OF WESTERN NEW YORK

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
95-1065
Petitioner 
Schenck
Respondent 
Pro-Choice Network of Western New York
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
(On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae supporting the respondents)
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Facts of the Case 

This action was filed by the Pro-Choice Network of Western New York (PCN), on behalf of health care providers, to enjoin Schenck and others from continuously staging blockades and other disruptive illegal activities in front of abortion clinics. After its restraining order proved ineffective, a District Court issued a preliminary injunction creating "fixed buffer zones" which prohibited demonstrations within fifteen feet of entrances to abortion clinics, parking lots, or driveways. The court also created "floating buffer zones" prohibiting demonstrators from coming within fifteen feet of people or vehicles seeking access to the clinics. Following the Appellate Court's decision to uphold the District Court's ruling that the "buffer zones" were constitutional, the Supreme Court granted Schenck certiorari.

Question 

Did either or both types of "buffer zones" violate Schenck's First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Split Vote

The Court held that while the "fixed buffer zones" were constitutional, the "floating buffer zones" were not. It distinguished between the two types of "buffer zones." The Court supported the "fixed buffer zones" because they protected the government's interest in public safety, by preventing protesters from engaging in unlawful conduct (i.e. spitting on and shouting in clinic users' faces, blocking doorways), while still allowing them to be heard from a short distance. "Floating buffer zones," by contrast, were struck down by the Court since they imposed a greater burden on free speech than was required to protect the government's interest in public safety and free traffic flow. The Court found that forcing demonstrators to remain at least 15 feet away from the people they wished to communicate with would create an inordinate amount of dangerous confusion and congestion.

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SCHENCK v. PRO-CHOICE NETWORK OF WESTERN NEW YORK. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 27 August 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1065/>.
SCHENCK v. PRO-CHOICE NETWORK OF WESTERN NEW YORK, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1065/ (last visited August 27, 2014).
"SCHENCK v. PRO-CHOICE NETWORK OF WESTERN NEW YORK," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 27, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1065/.