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Cornel West Arrested on Supreme Court Steps

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 17, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Princeton University professor and civil rights activist Dr. Cornel West was arrested Sunday during an Occupy D.C. protest at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just prior to his arrest, West gave a speech to a group of 500 people. He then spontaneously led about 200 demonstrators to the Court's steps.

His intent was to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The frequent "Real Time with Bill Maher" guest wanted to point out the "relation between corporate greed and what goes on too often in Supreme Court decisions."

Cornel West was likely referring to a number of recent Supreme Court decisions that have expanded corporate rights. This includes granting unfettered political donations, and ending the consumer class action.

While West is entitled to this opinion, he wasn't entitled to protest on the grounds of the Supreme Court. When he and the other Occupy D.C. protesters were told to leave, they had a legal obligation to do so.

Federal law makes it unlawful to "parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblage in the Supreme Court Building or grounds." This statute is intended to keep order and peace at the nation's highest court. It's also designed to prevent politicization of a neutral location.

Keep in mind that the prohibition is limited to Supreme Court grounds. Those who walk by the Court will often see protestors across the street, or on the sidewalk. Such demonstrations are legal.

Occupy D.C. protesters and Cornel West were arrested because they were on the Court's steps. If they had moved down to the sidewalk, this likely could have been avoided.

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