HealthTop StoryUS

California law limited by judge protecting vaccination sites


U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd ruled Saturday that the 30-foot limit designed to restrict protests at coronavirus vaccination sites, is too restrictive, due to the vagueness of the law as written by the state of California. Other portions of the law are clearly defined and are able to be better understood by those interpreting it, but there are some areas that are too broadly defined. The Associated Press has the story:

The law that took effect Oct. 8 makes it illegal to come within 30 feet (9.14 meters) of someone at a vaccination site, who is seeking inoculation

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge has thrown out California’s new 30-foot buffer zone designed to restrict protests at coronavirus vaccination sites, though his ruling left in place other parts of a new state law despite arguments that it infringes on free speech.

The law that took effect Oct. 8 makes it illegal to come within 30 feet (9.14 meters) of someone at a vaccination site “for the purpose of obstructing, injuring, harassing, intimidating, or interfering with that person.”

FILE – A driver in his convertible cruises past a small group of anti-COVID-19 vaccine protesters at Elysian Park, outside the Dodger Stadium vaccination mass center in Los Angeles, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. A federal judge has thrown out California’s new 30-foot buffer zone designed to restrict protests at coronavirus vacation sites. But U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd’s ruling Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, left in place other parts of a new state law despite arguments that it infringes on free speech. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd ruled Saturday that the 30-foot limit, which is contained in what he called the law’s “uncommon definition of ‘harassing,'” is too restrictive.

So, he issued a temporary restraining order barring the state from enforcing the “harassing” portion of the law, while leaving in place the ban on obstructing, injuring, intimidating, or interfering.

Those other portions of the law “appear to more precisely target the harms that the Legislature sought to prevent and further the state’s interest in ensuring that Californians can freely access vaccination sites,” he ruled.

Opponents said the bill is written so broadly that it includes any vaccine and can also apply to anti-abortion protesters.

Alliance Defending Freedom sued on behalf of Right to Life of Central California, which is located next to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic that offers the HPV vaccine against the human papillomavirus, but not vaccinations against COVID-19.

The anti-abortion group said the law, as written, would block its members from approaching women on the public sidewalk and street outside its own building and even in its own parking lot.

The ruling came as the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday coincidently considered whether it would allow legal challenges to a Texas law that has virtually ended abortion in the nation’s second-largest state after six weeks of pregnancy.

The problem in California, the most populous state, lies with the law’s definition of harassing, which “is far broader than the dictionary definition of the word ‘harass,'” Drozd said in his 28-page decision.

FILE – In this March 26, 2021, file photo a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site setup in Philadelphia. The vaccination drive is lagging far behind in many Amish communities across the U.S. following a wave of virus outbreaks that swept through their churches and homes during the past year. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

It includes approaching within 30 feet of a person or vehicle, without consent, “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with, that other person in a public way or on a sidewalk area.”

Moreover, the state attorney general’s interpretation of the law, in court filings and oral arguments, “is so vague that it is conducive to different and conflicting interpretations on what conduct is even prohibited by its terms,” Drozd wrote.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office, which defended the law, said it would “continue to defend the law and work to ensure that any Californian who would like to be vaccinated is able to obtain their COVID-19 vaccine without intimidation.”

Teachers rally at a demonstration against COVID-19 vaccination mandates, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, in New York. A growing number of communities are moving to require teachers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of aggressive campaigns to ward off the delta variant, which has infected hundreds of thousands of children in the United States. While some school districts are allowing teachers to opt out of vaccine requirements with weekly testing, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis have taken tougher stances by limiting exemptions to bona fide medical and religious reasons. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

“There can be no doubt that access to COVID-19 vaccines is essential to ‘stemming the spread of COVID-19,’ and that a state’s interest in ensuring its citizens can access and obtain COVID-19 vaccinations is compelling,” Dozd wrote, though he said it is less clear whether that should apply to all vaccines.

“Despite these undeniable facts, the court recognizes that the COVID-19 vaccines have been a subject of controversy and protest,” he wrote.

Yet the groups said the law violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion and association, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection when it comes to opposing abortions.

Violators could face up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000. But lawmakers included an exemption for picketing during a labor dispute, which Drozd said created another legal conflict.

Both sides claimed victory after the initial decision.

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Washington. Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“Free speech won the day not just for our client, Right to Life, but for every other speaker in California,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Denise Harle said in a statement. She said the law’s exemption for labor picketing created a “double standard in restricting pro-life outreach while permitting other types of speech.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, prominent vaccination proponent and author of the bill, said the judge “ultimately ruled against anti-vaccine extremists who attempt to obstruct and interfere with vaccination delivery.”

Crystal Strait, board chairwoman of bill proponent ProtectUS, said in an email that the ruling “is a step in finding balance between dangerous/reckless behavior of extremists and the first amendment.”

A second lawsuit in a different federal court, this one by Life Legal Defense Foundation ‘s chief legal officer, Katie Short, makes a much broader free speech argument.

“Creating speech-free zones around every drug store, stand-alone health clinic, and supermarket in the state in order to re-assure the occasional customer seeking a vaccine of some kind is hardly a narrowly drawn restriction on speech,” the foundation’s lawsuit contends.

The foundation’s request for a restraining order in that case has yet to be decided.


For more U.S. health news

Previous Article
Michelle Obama to speak with college students
Next Article
Volcano decimates La Palma in the Canary Islands

How useful was this article?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this article.

Latest News