November 6, 2012 — The Supreme Court on Monday reversed a lower court's ruling and said that antiabortion protesters could be entitled to receive compensation for legal fees, Reuters reports. The case involves a lawsuit filed by protesters against a South Carolina sheriff's office that ordered them to stop displaying graphic images at demonstrations.
The suit, which was filed in 2008 by Steven Lefemine and Columbia Christians for Life, claimed the sheriff's order violated the protesters' First Amendment rights. A federal district court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the police from imposing content-based restrictions on the signs but refused to award attorneys' fees.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, saying the injunction did not mean Lefemine was the "prevailing party."
However, the Supreme Court said the ruling had changed the police's behavior in a way that directly benefitted Lefemine. The justices returned the case to a lower court to decide if there are any "special circumstances" that would make the award unjust.
Steven Fitschen, a lawyer for Lefemine, said the fees could total hundreds of thousands of dollars (Stempel, Reuters, 11/5).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
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