BOSTON — In the fall of 2022, Pioneer Public Interest Law Center (PPILC), then known as Pioneer Legal, filed an amicus brief in the case of Barron v. Kolenda et al., pertaining to free speech rights at a public meeting in Southborough, Massachusetts.
On March 7, 2023, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared that Southborough’s civility code governing participation at public meetings violates Article 19 of the Massachusetts Constitution.
Article 19 protects core political speech rights—the right to assemble “in an orderly and peaceable manner. . . to consult upon the common good; give instructions to [the people’s] representatives,” and to request of the government “by way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.”
Exercising her Article 19 rights is just what appellant Louise Barron was attempting to do during the public comment portion of a Southborough town meeting when she was abruptly silenced and threatened with expulsion by town officials who claimed that her criticism of their repeated violations of the Open Meeting Law violated Southborough’s civility code.
PPILC’s non-party amicus brief in the case last fall urged the court to rule that civility codes like Southborough’s constitute viewpoint discrimination and, therefore, violate the sacrosanct right to free political expression enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution.