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Supreme Court Can Prohibit Protesters on Front Plaza

File - As the Supreme Court begins its new term, pro-life advocates hold a prayer vigil on the plaza of the High Court in Washington, October 2014.

Protesters do not have a right to demonstrate on the marble plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a U.S. appeals court.

The federal appeals court in Washington says the Supreme Court, the setting for many cases involving free speech, can keep protesters from congregating on its plaza without violating the demonstrators' constitutional rights.

In a unanimous ruling Friday, a three-judge panel said the open-air plaza can remain a protest-free zone because demonstrations outside the court might lead to the perception it is influenced by public opinion.

The court said protesters can congregate on a public sidewalk directly in front of the plaza.

"A line must be drawn somewhere along the route from the street to the court's front entrance,'' wrote Judge Sri Srinivasan in his opinion. "Among the options, it is fully reasonable for that line to be fixed at the point one leaves the concrete public sidewalk and enters the marble steps to the court's plaza."

The plaza is nearly 80-by-30 meters, has two fountains, and steps leading to the court's doors. It is often used by lawyers to address the media immediately after arguments are held in major cases.

At issue in the case is a decision by the Supreme Court, which said in 1983 the plaza is off-limits to protesters, but the sidewalks surrounding the court are open for protests.

The current court challenge was brought by Harold Hodge who was arrested in 2011 for wearing a sign in the plaza that criticized police treatment of blacks and Hispanics.