RESPONDENT: Alexandria Women's Health Clinic
LOCATION: Angola Louisiana State Penitentiary
DOCKET NO.: 90-985
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
CITATION: 506 US 263 (1993)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1991
REARGUED: Oct 06, 1992
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1993
John G. Roberts, Jr. - on behalf of the united states as amicus curiae supporting the petitioners
Deborah Ellis - Reargued the case for the respondents
John H. Schafer - Argued the case for the respondents
Jay Alan Sekulow - Argued and reargued the case for the petitioners
Facts of the case
Several abortion clinics sued to prevent Jayne Bray and other anti-abortion protesters from conducting demonstrations at clinics in Washington, D.C. The clinics claimed that the protesters had violated 42 U.S.C. 1985(3), which prohibits conspiracies to deprive "any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws." The protesters had sought to deny women their "right to abortion" and their right to interstate travel, the clinics argued. The District Court agreed, holding that Bray and others, by blocking access to the clinics, had conspired to deprive women seeking abortions of their right to interstate travel. The District Court also ruled for the clinics on state law trespassing and public nuisance claims, ordering the protesters to stop trespassing on or obstructing access to clinics. Finally, the District Court ordered the protesters to pay the clinics' attorney's fees and costs on the 1985(3) claim.
Did anti-abortion protesters who obstructed access to Washington, D.C. abortion clinics violate 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) by conspiring to deny women their "right to abortion" or right to interstate travel?
Media for Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic
- Opinion Announcement - January 13, 1993
- Oral Argument - October 16, 1991
- Oral Reargument - October 06, 1992
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 06, 1992 in Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 13, 1993 in Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 90-985, Bray against Alexandria Women's Health Clinic will be announced by Justice Scalia.
This case, originally argued in the October, 1991 term and reargued in this term, comes here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
The petitioners are an association and individuals who organize and coordinate anti-abortion demonstrations that trespass upon and obstruct general access to the premises of abortion clinics in the Washington D.C. area.
Respondents include the abortion clinics and organizations supporting legalized abortion.
Respondents sued to enjoin petitioners from conducting their demonstrations invoking the first clause of Section 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. Section 1985(3).
That clause prohibits conspiracies "for the purpose of depriving any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws".
The District Court ruled that petitioners had violated this federal statute by conspiring to deprive women seeking abortions of their right to interstate travel, and also rule for respondents on state law claims of trespass and public nuisance.
As relief, the court enjoined future demonstrations and, based on the Section 1985(3) finding, ordered petitioners to pay respondents attorney's fees and costs.
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we essentially reverse.
Respondents are not entitled to relief under the first clause of Section 1985(3).
Our precedents hold that to establish a violation of that Section a plaintiff must show that the conspirators acted with some racial or otherwise class-based invidiously discriminatory animus.
Our position to abortion does not qualify as a class-based animus, nor does our position to abortion reflect an invidiously discriminatory animus against women in general.
Men and women are on both sides of petitioner's demonstrations, and our precedents indicate that the disfavoring of abortion is not ipso facto invidious discrimination against women as a class.
Respondents also failed to establish a second requirement for a Section 1985(3) violation, namely, that petitioners intended to interfere with rights that are constitutionally protected against private and not merely official interference.
The District Court relied, as I have said, on the right to travel which is constitutionally protected against private interference in certain circumstances.
In our view it is clear, however, that petitioners had no intent to interfere with that right.
It was irrelevant to them whether the women whose access they impeded had traveled interstate or only intrastate to get to the clinics in question.
Petitioners did have the intent of interfering with the right to an abortion, but that right is constitutionally protected only against government interference and under our precedents, it cannot be the basis of a private conspiracy claim under Section 1985(3).
We do not reach the issue whether respondent could obtain relief under the second clause of Section 1985(3). the so-called prevention clause which prohibits conspiracies "for the purpose of preventing or hindering any state from giving or securing to all persons the equal protection of the laws."
Respondents did not state a prevention clause claim in their complaint, neither did the District Court nor the Court of Appeals reach the issue, and petitioners did not present this question in their petition for certiorari.
We note, moreover, that the language in the first clause that is the source of the class-based animus requirement is also found in the second clause, the prevention clause.
Moreover, to prevail with regard to this second clause, respondents would have to establish that unlike the first clause it applies to private conspiracies aimed at rights constitutionally protected only against government interference.
Because respondents were not entitled to relief under Section 1985(3), we vacate the award of attorney's fees.
We also conclude that prior to this decision respondents' claims were not so frivolous as to deprive the District Court of subject-matter jurisdiction, but on remand, the court should consider whether the state law claims alone can support the injunction.
The judgment of the Fourth Circuit is reversed in part, vacated in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Justice Kennedy joins the Court's opinion and has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Souter has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun joins; Justice O'Connor has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun joins.