May 26, 2009
The Sotomayor Decision Pro-Life Groups Aren't Sure About
In 2004, she ruled that a group of clinic protesters could proceed with its suit.
In 1989, members of Amnesty America entered an abortion clinic in West Hartford, Connecticut, chained themselves together, and blocked the entrance. When police arrived, the protesters used passive resistance to continue their protest (among their techniques: covering their hands in maple syrup to make handcuffs less useful).
The police dragged the protesters out anyway, and Amnesty America members sued, saying several of them suffered lasting physical damage from the police officers' actions (among the claims: an officer rammed a protester's head into a wall).
A district court issued a summary judgment for the town of West Hartford, but Sotomayor's Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and sent it back to the lower court for a jury trial.
"It is entirely possible that a reasonable jury would find, as the district court intimated, that the police officers' use of force was objectively reasonable given the circumstances and the plaintiffs' resistance techniques," Sotomayor wrote. "Because a reasonable jury could also find that the officers gratuitously inflicted pain in a manner that was not a reasonable response to the circumstances, however, the determination as to the objective reasonableness of the force used must be made by a jury following a trial."
Sotomayor also warned the group that its lawyer was unprofessional. He "has hardly acted as an effective advocate for his clients by presenting briefs so haphazardly prepared that they contain almost no legal argument," she wrote. His behavior was so bad, she wrote that, "we would be within our discretion to summarily dismiss this appeal. We opt, however, to consider the merits of this appeal because plaintiffs' claims are substantial enough to merit a trial, and declining to consider this appeal would unfairly penalize plaintiffs for Williams's failings as an advocate."
Pro-lifers seem unimpressed by the decision. "Though not concerning abortion policy directly, the case is viewed as a stand against free speech for pro-life advocates," says a briefing at LifeNews.com. Eh? It's hard to see the decision as anything but a good thing for this particular pro-life group. The question is more about how large the decision's implications are.