November 6, 2012
Supreme Court's First Decision: Pro-Life Protesters Should Be Paid
(Updated) Court reverses ruling against South Carolina group seeking attorneys' fees from sheriff's office.
Update (April 15): As part of the Supreme Court ruling last winter, a South Carolina federal district court has found that a Columbia Christians for Life member who won the right to display images of aborted fetuses is not entitled to an award of attorney's fees in his case.
In its first decision of the 2012-2013 term, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that anti-abortion protesters who won the right to "carry pictures of aborted fetuses" may also be entitled to attorneys' fees.
The ruling reversed a lower-court decision saying the Greenwood County, South Carolina, sheriff's office was not required to pay attorney's fees in a lawsuit brought by Steven Lefemine and Columbia Christians for Life. In its opinion, the Supreme Court found that the Civil Rights Attorneys Fees Act of 1976 allows Lefemine to claim legal fees for vindicating his right in court.
The narrowly tailored, unsigned decision "makes clear that the law applies just the same to antiabortion protesters who clash with police or city officials."
In 2005, police officers told the pro-life advocates they couldn't protest with their signs, which displayed graphic images. When they filed suit against the sheriff's office, a federal judge ruled in favor of the protesters but did not award damages or lawyer's fees.
The Supreme Court reversed that decision without hearing oral arguments and sent the case back to the lower courts, saying that Lefemine was due civil rights fees as the "prevailing party" in his suit against the sheriff.