Can a third grader identify a third-rate circus? Courts weigh activist rights
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:
SCRANTON, Pa.–A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit on April 15 unanimously upheld the
dismissal of a lawsuit against the Lacka-wanna Trail School District
in Scranton, Pennsylvania, alleging that Amanda Walker-Serrano,
then a third grader, was denied her First Amendment right to freedom
of expression in February 1999 when her school stopped her from
petitioning against a class trip to the Shriners’ circus in
Amanda Walker-Serrano is the daughter of Scranton animal
advocates Lisa Walker and Michael Serrano. Her rights were not
violated, Judge Anthony J. Scirica wrote, because she was allowed
to distribute coloring books and stickers about animal abuse.
“Absent punishment for expression, a significant pattern of
concrete suppression, or some other form of clear suppression of the
expression of elementary school students, a federal First Amendment
action is not an appropriate forum for resolution of disputes over
schools’ control of third graders’ conduct,” opined Scirica.
Circuit Judge Morton I. Greenberg wrote, “I think it is
unlikely that the third-grade children here could have had knowledge
of how a circus treats its animals. After all, I have no such
Replied District Judge John P. Fullam, promoted to complete
the panel, “The First Amendment rights of school children are
undoubtedly somewhat more limited than the First Amendment rights of
adults. But that does not mean that a 9-year-old child should be
treated as if she were a preschooler. To suggest that neither Amanda
Walker-Serrano nor her classmates had sufficient maturity to express
or form valid opinions concerning the proposed class trip to the
circus I find unacceptable.”
Activists won precedental rulings earlier in 2003 in
unrelated cases pertaining to circuses and First Amendment rights.
On February 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C.
Circuit reinstated a case brought against the Ringling Brothers
Barnum & Bailey Circus alleging violations of the Endangered Species
Act, brought by the American SPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute,
the Fund for Animals, and Thomas Rider, a Ringling elephant care
staff member from 1997 to 1999.
The case was originally dismissed on grounds that the
plaintiffs lacked legal standing to sue, meaning that they could not
prove that they suffered injury from the alleged offenses. However,
the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit followed the precedent it
set on behalf of Long Island activist Marc Jurnove and the Animal
Legal Defense Fund in September 1998, in a verdict later upheld by
the U.S. Supreme Court, when it ruled that an activist can have a
legally significant interest in the fate of a captive animal.
The appellate ruling against Ringling “appears to make
organizations more vulnerable to such animal abuse suits if the
actions are brought in part by a former insider,” wrote United Press
International legal correspondent Michael Kirkland.
RICO & Hobbs
On February 25 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the 1970
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and the 1946 Hobbs
Act cannot be used to punish protesters for acts such as blocking
sidewalks, because such acts do not constitute the crime of
extortion. Extortion, as defined by Congress involves an attempt to
unlawfully take tangible benefit from the victim.
The Supreme Court ruled on behalf of anti-abortion protesters
who were originally sued in 1986 by clinics in Delaware and Wisconsin
and by the National Organization of Women, but the protesters’
appeal was backed by advocacy groups from across the political
spectrum, including PETA.
With the judicial precedents running in favor of protest,
the city of South Salt Lake, Utah, in early April settled a First
Amendment case filed in March by the Utah Animal Rights Coalition by
paying UARC $101 and recommending to the city council a series of
code amendments which would allow protesters to come within five feet
of nonparticipants in order to offer literature, and would cut the
advance notice required to obtain a demonstration permit from five
days to 36 hours.