By Dan Sewell
CINCINNATI: A federal appeals court Friday upheld dismissal of a lawsuit against U.S. marshals in the raid of a strident anti-abortion author’s southwest Ohio home, but sharply questioned the property seizure.
The three-judge 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel affirmed a lower court ruling that the marshals were legally protected from being sued while carrying out the court order for seizure of property against Michael Bray. Court documents show that the order came after a Planned Parenthood organization in Oregon won an $850,000 award from Bray in a lawsuit against activists they sued for intimidation by threat of force against abortion providers.
The panel called the 2007 Wilmington, Ohio, raid “a home attack” on Bray’s ability to express ideas.
“If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, this case involves an incident that is more like raids by Red Guards during China’s Cultural Revolution than like what we should expect in the United States of America,” wrote Judge John M. Rogers in the opinion.
Bray, who earlier served four years in prison in connection with attacks on abortion clinics in the Washington D.C. area, is the author of “A Time to Kill,” defending violence to protect the unborn.
“It is true that the debtor’s ideas — that it is moral to take violent, illegal action to stop abortions — are repugnant,” the appellate court opinion stated. “But it is contrary to our fundamental norms to permit government-sanctioned attacks on the purveyance of ideas, even when those ideas are repugnant.”
Federal marshals wearing flak jackets and carrying weapons raided the home, seizing items including computers, cameras and books and papers. Meanwhile, Bray was ordered to remain on his couch and lawyers for Planned Parenthood Columbia Williamette of Oregon and other people roamed their property with a videotape being made, according to court documents.
Bray and his wife Jayne sued, saying their constitutional rights were violated and their children were treated like criminals in their own home.
The appeals panel affirmed a U.S. district court ruling dismissing the suit, saying the marshals were entitled to qualified immunity because they could have reasonably believed that their conduct in carrying out the court-ordered search was lawful.
Bray’s attorney, Thomas W. Condit, said “there’s an awful lot of wiggle room” in the qualified immunity standard. He said he’ll consider a further appeal.
“This is a strongly worded opinion,” Condit said. “It will serve notice certainly to law enforcement officials in the future.”