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Finally, Relief for Wrongly Prosecuted Pro-Lifer

When citizens can be charged with felonies for exercising their First Amendment rights, the rule of law is demonstrably eroded.

by
Hans von Spakovsky and Travis LaCouter

Bio

April 6, 2012 - 12:00 am

We recently wrote about the Holder Department of Justice’s baseless and politically motivated prosecution of pro-life activists, including a sidewalk counselor from Florida named Mary Susan Pine. Misapplying the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, DOJ sought to punish Pine for appearing peacefully outside of a women’s health clinic to talk to women as they considered procuring abortions.

In court, DOJ’s case quickly fell apart. The Department failed to produce essential evidence. In fact, the near-total lack of any evidence left federal judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp to wonder outright if Pine’s prosecution was the result of her political views. After all, the DOJ could not even prove that a crime had been committed. In an order granting a motion for summary judgment, Ryskamp concluded:

The record [is] almost entirely devoid of evidence that Ms. Pine acted with the prohibited motive and intent or that Ms. Pine engaged in any unlawful conduct. (Emphasis added.)

Stretching the terms of FACE to apply to this case so that a desire to provide people with information about alternatives to abortion constitutes an unlawful motive, would unjustifiably impinge on Ms. Pine’s First Amendment rights.

Barring the existence of a conspiracy between the clinic and the government, which Ryskamp acknowledged as a possibility, the judge was “at a loss as to why the Government chose to prosecute this particular case in the first place.”

Now, after 18 months of litigation, the case against Pine has collapsed completely. On March 23, DOJ abandoned its appeal of Ryskamp’s decision. Accordingly, Pine has been awarded $120,000 for attorneys’ fees, and the DOJ has agreed to permanently drop the case against her.

Liberty Counsel, the nonprofit litigation firm representing Pine, praised the result and questioned Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to let such a worthless case proceed. Said Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel Action:

When Eric Holder should be prosecuting terrorists, he is wasting time manufacturing baseless lawsuits against law-abiding, pro-life Americans.

This is not the first time the administration has tried to use the FACE Act to silence those with whom it disagrees. The number of FACE Act prosecutions has increased dramatically since President Barack Obama took office. According to the DOJ’s own statistics, the Bush administration pursued one civil case under the FACE Act in eight years, while the Department under Holder has already opened 20 such cases, filing official complaints in eight. When private citizens can be charged with felonies for exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights, the rule of law in America is demonstrably eroded.

Thankfully, several judges have thrown out such thin cases. In Colorado, for instance, a federal judge dismissed ten FACE charges against Kenneth Scott. In Kansas, a district judge refused to issue an injunction against Angel Dillard after she sent a harsh letter to an abortion doctor. It is unfortunate that the pro-abortion mania of a handful of DOJ lawyers is costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars and diverting time and resources away from serious law enforcement.

Mary Susan Pine, for her part, will continue her 20-year ministry of helping women consider alternatives to abortion. Pine told LifeSiteNews.com:

This is obviously a political move to … intimidate the [pro-life] movement, and I don’t think we’re going to be intimidated.

Hans von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former lawyer in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Travis LaCouter is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.
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