Sidewalks of freedom

In 1980 a woman named Mary Terese Grace was stopped from standing on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court with a sign quoting the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Last week a unanimous court acted in the spirit of that amendment by striking down a federal law under which such picketers were banned from the sidewalks around the court. One justice went farther and would have permitted the exercise of First Amendment rights in peaceful demonstrations on the grounds of the court as well.

The sidewalk ban was enacted in 1949 to prevent demonstrators' influence on the judges. The court has now rejected such arguments and recognized that the Constitution applies to its own sidewalks no less than to others. It's enough to bring out a picketer with a ''Yea, Supreme Court!'' sign.

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