Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Charlotte.
Robert D. Potter, Senior District Judge. (CA-93-393-3-P)
Before RUSSELL, WILKINS, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.
Reversed by published opinion. Judge Wilkins wrote the opinion, in which Judge Russell and Judge Williams joined.
We are convened to review a decision of the district court holding two statutes--one enacted by the General Assembly of North Carolina and the other enacted by the Congress of the United States--to be unconstitutional. See Hoffman v. Hunt, 923 F. Supp. 791 (W.D.N.C. 1996). The district court held that a North Carolina law criminalizing the obstruction of access to or egress from health care facilities, see N.C. Gen. Stat. Section(s) 14-27 7.4 (Supp. 1996), *fn1 is violative of the First Amendment on its face and as applied. See Hoffman, 923 F. Supp. at 802-05. And, it held that a portion of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) of 1994, see 18 U.S.C.A. Section(s) 248 (West Supp. 1997), *fn2 violates the United States Constitution. See Hoffman, 923 F. Supp. at 823. We reverse.
I. Facts and Procedural Background
Plaintiffs--Sharon Hoffman, Trudie Matthews, Diane Hoefling, Ronnie Wallace, and John Bradley--are North Carolina residents who oppose abortion for moral, religious, and scientific reasons. Their opposition has motivated them to engage in demonstrations outside facilities in North Carolina where abortions are performed. Their activities include leafleting, picketing, sidewalk counseling, and other nonviolent forms of protest designed to persuade women seeking abortions to consider alternative means of confronting an unwanted pregnancy. Additionally, Plaintiffs aspire to convince health care professionals not to perform abortions. During their participation in protests outside North Carolina clinics where abortions are performed, Plaintiffs have not engaged in "rescues"--i.e., blocking women seeking abortions and health care workers from entering clinics--and have attempted to avoid arrest by complying with instructions from law enforcement officers concerning conduct and acts prohibited by various North Carolina laws, including Section(s) 14-277.4. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs have been threatened with arrest for conduct that did not obstruct or block access to or egress from health care facilities. Because Plaintiffs believed that these enforcement efforts violated their First Amendment rights, they filed this action challenging the constitutionality of Section(s) 14-277.4 on its face and as applied to them. *fn3
While this lawsuit was pending before the district court, Congress enacted FACE. Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add a challenge to subsection (a)(1) of that statute on the basis that Congress lacked the authority to enact it under the Commerce Clause or Section(s) 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and that it violated the First Amendment. *fn4
Because we were then considering a constitutional challenge to FACE, the district court placed this litigation in abeyance pending the decision of this court in American Life League, Inc. v. Reno, 47 F.3d 642 (4th Cir. 1995). Following the February 13, 1995 decision in American Life League--which upheld the constitutionality of FACE under the Commerce Clause and the First Amendment--but before the district court had ruled in this action, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995). Lopez held that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the GunFree School Zones Act of 1990, see 18 U.S.C.Section(s) 922(q) (Supp. V 1994), which prohibited the possession of "a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone." Lopez, 514 U.S. at 551 (internal quotation marks omitted). Believing that Lopez cast considerable doubt on the continuing validity of American Life League, the district court sought additional briefing directed to that issue.
Thereafter, the district court conducted an evidentiary hearing with respect to the enforcement of Section(s) 14-277.4. During that hearing, Plaintiffs offered evidence concerning their experiences while participating in abortion protests. Defendants elected not to submit any evidence. Based on the testimony presented, the district court rendered findings of fact that are not challenged on appeal. Specifically, the district court found:
Police have interpreted [Section(s) 14-277.4] in different ways and have difficulty deciding the meaning of the words"interfere", "obstruct", "impede", and"delay."
The Plaintiffs have attempted to have police define for them exactly what they may and may not do in order to comply with the statute, but have received varying interpretations from police officers.
There are different interpretations in different police districts and among police in the same district. For example, ... [s]ome officers prohibit the handing out of leaflets to occupants of automobiles entering the clinic because that will impede traffic and constitute interference under the statute. Some officers allow the picketers to wave pro-life literature to get the attention of persons entering the driveway. Others do not. Some officers allow the leafletters to yell to people in the parking lot, others don't.
Hoffman, 923 F. Supp. at 800 (citations omitted). Based on Plaintiffs' evidence, the district court held that Section(s) 14-277.4 was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, both on its face and as applied. See id. at 802-05. The district court also ruled that in enacting FACE Congress had exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause and under Section(s) 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and, further, that FACE was violative of the First Amendment. See id. at 805-23. Consequently, the district court ...