Last week, Judge Cote ruled that a New York’s Penal Law Section 215.50 – a misdemeanor criminal contempt statute that prohibits shouting and display of signage within two hundred feet of a courthouse where that speech concerns a trial ongoing in that courthouse – violated the First Amendment. The case arose when the defendant distributed pamphlets with information about jury nullification outside the Bronx County Hall of Justice and was arrested after refusing to move outside of the 200-foot perimeter.
Judge Cote found that the act was not sufficiently tailored to meet the state’s purported interest in protecting trial integrity:
[B]ecause the Act is a content-based restriction on speech that concerns matters of public interest in a public forum, it is subject to the “most exacting scrutiny.” The defendants have not shown that the state must criminalize speech in this way to protect the integrity of ongoing trials. To the extent that speakers are obstructing passage on the sidewalks or engaging with others in demonstrations, there are content-neutral regulations to maintain public order and access to a public building. And, of course, there are laws that make it a crime to tamper intentionally with jurors and witnesses. And, while it may pose a not inconsiderable burden on the court system, if jurors or witnesses must be escorted to and from the courthouse to encourage or protect their service on a particular trial, that can be done as well.