Many municipalities have enacted ordinances limiting or banning targeted protests in residential areas, particularly those that target individual homes. Many court cases involve anti-abortion protestors seeking to protest in front of the homes of doctors who perform abortions. The issue presents a clash between privacy and freedom of expression.
Court has upheld residential picketing bans
In Frisby v. Schultz (1988), the Supreme Court narrowly upheld a residential picketing ban enacted by the town of Brookfield, Wisconsin. Finding a substantial governmental interest in protecting residential privacy, the Court majority explained: “One important aspect of residential privacy is protection of the unwilling listener. Although in many locations, we expect individuals simply to avoid speech they do not want to hear, the home is different.”
The Court interpreted Brookfield’s ban to apply not to general marching through a neighborhood but to targeted picketing at a particular residence. “Only focused picketing taking place solely in front of a particular residence is prohibited,” the Court explained.
Broad bans on residential picketing have been struck down
Relying on Frisby, many lower courts have upheld similar bans on protests near residential homes. In State v. Castellano (1993), the Minnesota Court of Appeals relied on Frisby to uphold a similar ban on targeted residential picketing. Similarly, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld a state law that prohibited targeted residential picketing in State v. Baldwin (1995).
Other courts have struck down broad bans on residential picketing. In Vittitow v. City of Upper Arlington (1995), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a flat ban on residential picketing believing that it burdened too much speech and applied to more than targeted picketing in front of a particular home.
Judicial injunctions have also been upheld
Sometimes the cases have involved judicial injunctions rather than state laws. For example, in Murray v. Lawson (1994) the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a judicial injunction prohibiting antiabortion protestors from picketing within three hundred feet of a physician’s residence. The New Jersey high court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, Inc. (1994), which upheld a similar three-hundred-foot ban.