The Obama administration has lost one round of a legal battle it is waging in court against a Florida pro-life advocate — a battle that saw the administration unfairly seek to punish a peaceful sidewalk counselor under a law meant to stop violence and intimidation.
Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice had sought to levy thousands of dollars in fines against pro-life activist Mary Susan Pine as well as seeking a permanent injunction banning her from continuing her faithful 20-year ministry outside an abortion clinic in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“But this scheme was thrown out of court and drew criticism from Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp, who concluded that the government lacked evidence to prove not just one, but “all three elements of its FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act) claim,” said Mathew Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel Action, whose organization is assisting Pine.
“Eric Holder’s Department of Justice (DOJ) just lost a major court battle due to their unjustified charges against a pro-life woman who was defended by Liberty Counsel,” Staver added.
Judge Ryskamp concluded that “the evidence could not lead a rational jury to find that Ms. Pine’s conduct [i.e., having peaceful conversations with clinic visitors on a public sidewalk] constituted a physical obstruction within the meaning of FACE.” The Judge chastised Holder for seeking to apply federal law in a clearly unconstitutional manner, saying, “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.”
The government’s decision to prosecute Pine despite having no evidence of wrongdoing prompted Judge Ryskamp to suspect a conspiracy at the highest level of the Obama Administration.
“The Court is at a loss as to why the government chose to prosecute this case in the first place. The Court can only wonder if this action was the result of a concerted effort between the Government and the [abortion clinic], which began well before the date of the incident at issue, to quell Ms. Pine’s activities,” the judge said.
Details of the case that led it to court were profiled in the Christian Post:
The act in question occurred on November 19, 2009, when the defendant approached a car at the exit driveway of PWC, handing them pamphlets and speaking to them about alternatives and resources available to pregnant women. It was not determined whether or not the passengers were seeking reproductive health services.
West Palm Beach Police Officer Sanjay Raja, who was on patrol that day, accused Pine of violating city and state traffic laws, stating that she was purportedly blocking the flow of traffic because of her sidewalk counseling session.
The government acknowledged that they did not at any time, during or after the meeting, request the PWC to produce any documents or preserve evidence, leaving Raja as the only witness to the incident. The day after the incident, representatives from the Department of Justice met with the PWC staff, Raja, and another police officer to discuss the incident and determine whether Pine was in violation of FACE, which they believed she was.
Pine argued that the government had not met its burden of proving: that she physically obstructed or interfered with the passengers in the sedan; and that the passengers were seeking reproductive health services at the PWC. She also revealed that the government violated its duty to preserve the evidence related to the case and that if she were to be fined or banned, it would violate her First Amendment rights.
Pine claimed that her exchange with the passengers of the car was consensual and that she did not in any way use physical threats or obscenities while conducting the counseling.
“For the past 20 years, Susan Pine has counseled women about the tragedy of such a course of action. Pine never obstructs anyone and denied she ever obstructed any vehicle, as the DOJ claimed (although with no evidence),” Staver said. “Liberty Counsel, our sister organization, represented Ms. Pine in the case of Holder v. Pine at no cost and will continue to represent her if she needs further legal help.”
“Liberty Counsel Action will not stand by while the Attorney General seeks to intimidate Americans for their pro-life beliefs or for any other reason,” he continued. “When Eric Holder should be prosecuting terrorists, he is wasting time manufacturing baseless lawsuits against law-abiding, pro-life Americans and engaging in other politically-inspired campaigns against pro-liberty, pro-family citizens! Such actions by the Attorney General are abuses of power and examples of intolerably misplaced priorities.”
Staver says the Pine case is one reason why Holder should be removed from office.
“Mary Susan Pine is a picture of courage and moral strength. For the last twenty plus years, she has spent virtually every Saturday in front of an abortion clinic. Susan counsels women who are considering abortion and provides help, resources, and support for women who choose life for their babies,” he said. “Susan’s dedication made her a target of Eric Holder and the radically pro-abortion Obama Administration. But she would not be silenced. Even while targeted and harassed by the federal government, Susan continues to stand for life and defend those who cannot defend themselves.”
“In 2008, Holder refused to prosecute members of the New Black Panthers who were caught on video engaging in voter intimidation during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign – yet, he will unleash his legal team to stop a pro-life woman from talking to people about the long-term effects of abortion,” Staver continued. “Mary Susan Rice was the target of Attorney General Holder’s misguided attempt to intimidate pro-life citizens. He failed. Yet, his DOJ is still considered (and even feared) by many to be a strong extension of Barack Obama’s political agenda. How many more outrageous cases will Eric Holder initiate to advance the Obama Administration’s political interests?”