On 13 January, US District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced the women – Emily Paterson, Rolande Baker, Nikki Enfield – to unsupervised probation until 30 June, 2023, and barred them from the Supreme Court grounds.
Their action on 2 November, 2021 marked the first protest within the courtroom in nearly seven years, nearly five months after the court’s landmark decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization that revoked a constitutional right to abortion care and upended abortion rights in states across the US.
“I don’t condone what was done here, but I do understand it,” Judge Mehta said, noting a “history of civil disobedience which has changed the fabric of our nation.”
Supreme Court justices were hearing oral arguments in an unrelated case of Bittner v United States on Wednesday when Ms Paterson called out to “denounce Dobbs” and told American voters “remember to vote” in midterm elections that month.
Ms Baker shouted out “the right to choose will not be taken away” and urged women to “vote for our right to choose.”
We will restore our freedom to choose,” Ms Enfield then called out from inside the court. “Women of America, vote!”
Each protester was removed from the court by police and placed under arrest.
“Generations of women, including my own, have fought to win our right to vote and our right to choose,” according to a written statement that day from Ms Baker, identified as a great-grandmother and retired schoolteacher from Tucson, Arizona.
“Now we must use our ballots and our voices to restore our freedom to choose,” she added.
The women were in custody for roughly 30 hours, according to the federal public defender representing the women, who said they were held in various facilities in “deplorable and shocking conditions”.
They wrote a statement to the judge requesting to be sentenced to time served.
Federal prosecutors, however, asked the judge to sentence the women to 12 months of probation with a stay-away order from the Supreme Court building and surrounding grounds.
Attorneys for the US Department of Justice argued that the Supreme Court cannot be considered “a sort of ‘open mic night’”.
“The defendants’ actions severely undermined the respect and reverence our highest court deserves,” they wrote in court filings. “Were such conduct allowed to go unpunished, the court would quickly cease to be a place where the most important legal disputes in our nation are adjudicated under procedures enacted to ensure fairness and, instead, become a sort of ‘open mic night’ for citizens to voice their personal views.”