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Supreme Court disrupted by Citizens United protesters

WASHINGTON -- Protesters briefly interrupted proceedings at the Supreme Court Wednesday to mark the fifth anniversary of the court's Citizens United ruling on campaign finance.

Supreme Court police removed eight people from the courtroom, including one who had a concealed camera, just after the justices took the bench, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. The protest briefly delayed the justices from reading summaries of their opinions shortly after 10 a.m. EST.

99Rise, the same group that was behind last year's surreptitious video recording and protest inside the courtroom, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's demonstration.

The protesters "stood up in the tradition of nonviolent dissent to speak out against corruption and to defend our democracy on the fifth anniversary of Citizens United," 99Rise leader Kai Newkirk said in a telephone interview.

The 5-4 Citizens United decision in January 2010 freed corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want on elections for Congress and president.

President Obama issued a statement repeating his view that the decision was wrong and "has caused real harm to our democracy."

Newkirk was arrested last year, and barred from the court grounds for a year, after a protest in which the group managed to get a camera inside the courtroom and post video on the Internet.

Newkirk acknowledged that the protesters also had a camera Wednesday. He said he did not know whether there would be footage available.

Court security stepped up security screenings following the embarrassing breach of court rules, which do not allow cameras.

Those arrested were charged with conspiracy-related offenses arising from the courtroom disturbance, Arberg said. Seven of the eight also were charged with violating a law against making "a harangue or oration, or uttering loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building," Arberg said. The court did not release the names of those arrested.

An Associated Press reporter saw five people in plastic handcuffs outside the courtroom after the protest, which lasted just a couple of minutes.

In an opinion read Wednesday, the court said a former air marshal who was fired after leaking plans to the media about security cutbacks can seek whistleblower protection.

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The justices ruled that Robert MacLean did not violate the law when he revealed in 2003 that the Transportation Security Administration planned to save money by cutting back on overnight trips for undercover air marshals.

MacLean said he leaked the information to an MSNBC reporter after agency supervisors ignored his safety concerns. His disclosure triggered outrage in Congress and a quick reversal of the policy.

McLean was fired two years later after the agency found out he was the leaker.

A federal appeals court sided with MacLean, but the government argued that whistleblower laws don't cover workers who reveal sensitive security information.

Also, the court appears bitterly divided in a debate over a decades-old strategy for fighting housing discrimination.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues expressed serious doubts Wednesday that the Fair Housing Act can be used to ban housing or lending practices without any proof of intent to discriminate.

The court's four liberal justices defended the use of so-called "disparate impact" lawsuits that allege even race-neutral policies can have a harmful effect on minority groups.

Civil rights groups have predicted the court took up the case to knock out such lawsuits. Justice Antonin Scalia asked tough questions of both sides.

The case involves an appeal from Texas officials accused of awarding federal tax credits in a way that steered low-income housing to mostly black neighborhoods.