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Clinic blockade case argued at high court

The Bush administration renewed its argument before the Supreme Court on Tuesday that federal judges do not have jurisdiction to stop Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion groups from trying to shut down abortion clinics through blockades and mass demonstrations.

Deputy Solicitor General John G. Roberts Jr. argued that the Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era federal civil-rights law that federal judges across the country have invoked as the basis for injunctions to bar the protests, does not apply to actions motivated by opposition to abortion.

The Ku Klux Klan Act, enacted in 1871 to protect the newly freed blacks in the South from mob violence by white racists, prohibits conspiracies to deprive people of their civil rights.

The Supreme Court has interpreted the law to apply only to conspiracies aimed at a particular group or "class" of people and motivated by a "discriminatory animus" against that class.

In the case before the justices Tuesday, a federal appeals court in Richmond upheld an injunction against Operation Rescue's plan to blockade abortion clinics in northern Virginia. The appeals court found that "women seeking abortions" were in fact a class and that efforts to stop them from obtaining abortions amounted to discrimination against women.

Last year, after the Supreme Court had agreed to hear Operation Rescue's appeal of that ruling, the Bush administration entered the case on the anti-abortion group's behalf. That decision gave the case, and the legal issue, much higher political visibility.

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