D.C. magistrate’s order spurs debate over judicial overreach

The case of a man self-described as an “irritant” who was arrested on crime charges last month in Washington, D.C. and has an upcoming hearing next week is attracting considerable attention among free-speech scholars and advocates. The District of Columbia magistrate’s judicial order issued in the matter has touched off a lively debate concerning the parameters of First Amendment rights and the appropriateness of conditions that a judge can impose on a defendant in a particular case.

Rives M. Grogan — also known as “Pastor Rick” — is an antiabortion protestor of longstanding tenure who has loudly proclaimed his beliefs in public places across the country for many years. Grogan has in fact been arrested on federal criminal charges about 10 times just within the past two years in the Washington, D.C. area and has been convicted half a dozen times.

Last month, Grogan climbed a tree and secured an optimal view of President Obama’s inauguration ceremony. He shouted throughout the event and was arrested hours later after climbing down.

The magistrate he came before stated that the order she imposed on Grogan until his hearing next week was based on her legal need to weigh his speech rights against public safety. In doing so, she cited the arrest report noting that Grogan was “jeopardizing his life and the life of others” in the event that a tree branch might break and fall.

That rationale earned Grogan a penalty that many civil liberty spokespersons are openly lamenting and even scratching their heads over. Pastor Rick was banned outright from the entire 68 square-mile area of the nation’s capitol.

One commentator on the case called the ruling “absurd.” Another — a law professor and First Amendment scholar — termed it “a pristine example of an overbroad condition.” The president of the ABA’s sentencing committee called the magistrate’s reasoning “dubious,” saying that a more appropriate outcome pending a hearing would simply have been to order Grogan “not to climb trees over the heads of people.”

As for Grogan, he professes puzzlement as to “why they would ban me from all of Washington.”

Source: Washington Post, “Banning of protestor from D.C. after inauguration ignites debate on free speech,” Peter Hermann and Mary Pat Flaherty, Jan. 23, 2013