Despite his convincing victory two years ago, pro-life activist Joseph M. Scheidler’s battle with the National Organization for Women will go to the U.S. Supreme Court for a third time.
As the last act of its current term, the high court agreed to hear the case of NOW v. Scheidler, the federal lawsuit brought by NOW under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
As WorldNetDaily reported, NOW lost its second round in the Supreme Court in 2003 in a decisive 8-1 ruling. The feminist group charged that protests organized by Scheidler’s Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League amounted to extortion under RICO.
The court ruled aggressive pro-life protesters cannot be punished by federal racketeering laws meant for organized crime and drug dealers. The decision reversed the RICO charge against Scheidler’s group and vacated a nationwide injunction and damage award of $257,780 on the pro-life defendants.
Nevertheless, the feminist group – which has stated an intent to crush groups opposing abortion – could collect $1.2 million in damages and legal fees from Scheidler and his colleagues.
The Supreme Court returned the case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to carry out the decision, but NOW convinced a three-judge panel to send it back to district court, where the high court’s ruling could be overturned.
NOW’s persistence in the case despite the Supreme Court’s decisive ruling coincides with its stated determination to shut down pro-life groups.
In a 1998 statement that referred to the Scheidler case, NOW’s former president, Patricia Ireland, said, “We will continue our litigation strategy until the terrorists are bankrupt and out of business.”
Ireland also was a NOW attorney working on the case before she became head of the organization.
In his majority opinion in the 2003 decision, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote: “Because all of the predicate acts supporting the jury’s finding of a RICO violation must be reversed, the judgment that petitioners violated RICO must also be reversed.”
Without an underlying RICO violation, the district court’s injunction must necessarily be vacated, Scheidler points out.
“I thought that was the end of it,” he said. “But NOW and it’s lawyers have a full bag of tricks – and friends in the Seventh Circuit.”
The Supreme Court said all of the 117 alleged acts of extortion against Scheidler and his group “must be reversed,” including four alleged acts of violence. But NOW attorney Fay Clayton convinced a Seventh Circuit panel those four “acts” should be considered separately.
Briefing and oral arguments will be held over until the fall 2005 Supreme Court session.
The case is further complicated by the fact the jury in the 1998 trial was not required to reveal which acts it deemed violent. Furthermore, Pro-Life Action League presented evidence, including photographs and news footage, that indicates some of the key witnesses lied.
Scheidler and the other defendants were supported in the 2003 Supreme Court case by an unusual coalition of about 70 activists and groups that included actor Martin Sheen and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Now in its 19th year of litigation, the case began in June 1986 when NOW filed a federal lawsuit against Scheidler and two other pro-life activists. NOW charged that Scheidler and his colleagues interfered with interstate commerce in an attempt to shut down abortion clinics.
Three years later, NOW incorporated RICO violations into its complaint and expanded the scope to a class-action suit that included every woman in the United States seeking an abortion – past, present or future – and all abortion clinics. Operation Rescue, two members of Scheidler’s group – Tim Murphy and Andy Scholberg – and another 100 alleged “co-conspirators” also were named as defendants.