McCullen v. Coakley

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McCullen v. Coakley
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 15, 2014
Decided June 26, 2014
Full case nameEleanor McCullen, et al., Petitioners v. Martha Coakley, Attorney General of Massachusetts, et al.
Docket no.12-1168
Citations573 U.S. ___ (more)
134 S. Ct. 2518; 189 L. Ed. 2d 502; 2014 U.S. LEXIS 4499
Case history
PriorStatute upheld as to facial challenge, 573 F. Supp. 2d 382 (D. Mass. 2008); affirmed, 571 F.3d 167 (1st Cir. 2009); cert. denied, 130 S. Ct. 1881 (2010); statute upheld as to as applied challenge, 759 F. Supp. 2d 133 (D. Mass. 2010); affirmed, 708 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2013); cert. granted, 570 U.S. 916 (2013).
The provisions of the Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act limiting protesting within 35 feet of an abortion clinic violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed and remanded.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Case opinions
MajorityRoberts, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan
ConcurrenceScalia, joined by Kennedy, Thomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

McCullen v. Coakley, 573 U.S. ___ (2014), is a United States Supreme Court case. The Court unanimously held that Massachusetts' 35-foot (11 m) fixed abortion buffer zones, established via amendments to that state's Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act, violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it limited free speech too broadly.[1]


In 1994, the US Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. In 2000, Massachusetts passed an analogous state law, the Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act. In 2007, the act was amended to create a 35-foot (11 m) buffer zone around reproductive health care facilities.

The amended Act was challenged by protesters of the Planned Parenthood clinics in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, Massachusetts under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, writing that, "The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve Massachusetts' asserted interests."[2] He stated that Massachusetts failed to show that it tried less intrusive alternatives first:

Although respondents claim that Massachusetts 'tried other laws already on the books', they identify not a single prosecution brought under those laws within at least the last 17 years. And while they also claim that the Commonwealth 'tried injunctions', the last injunctions they cite date to the 1990s. In short, the Commonwealth has not shown that it seriously undertook to address the problem with less intrusive tools readily available to it. Nor has it shown that it considered different methods that other jurisdictions have found effective.[3]

Associate Justice Samuel Alito also filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, stating that the law blatantly discriminates based on viewpoint. He noted that while anti-abortion supporters criticizing the clinic may not enter the zone, clinic counselors or other employees may do so, giving them opportunities to talk to prospective clients.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McCullen v. Coakley, No. 12-1168, 573 U.S. ___ (2014).
  2. ^ McCullen v. Coakley, 573 U. S., (slip op., at 23)
  3. ^ McCullen v. Coakley, 573 U. S., (slip op., at 27)
  4. ^ McCullen v. Coakley, 573 U. S., (Alito, concurring slip op., at 2-3)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]