VDH Files Amicus Brief for M.A.S.C. in Appeal of Decision Sustaining Local Board’s Policy Barring Disruption During Public Comment Sessions

On November 2, 2022, the Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral argument in Barron, et al. v. Southborough Board of Selectmen, et al., No. SJC-13284. The case is an appeal from a Superior Court decision that rejected a challenge to a local select board’s enforcement of its policy against speech during the public comment session of its open meetings that disrupts the meeting. The plaintiffs claim that the policy violates their speech rights under Article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

VDH attorney John Foskett has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. The brief urges the court to affirm the lower court’s decision; to hold that the public comment sessions during school committee open meetings are a “limited public forum”; and to decide that under analogous cases addressing the right of speech in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the challenged policy is lawful. The brief argues that so long as a policy is reasonable and viewpoint neutral and is targeted at disruption, the policy may bar speech that involves ad hominem attacks, vituperation, shouting, interrupting other speakers, and similar conduct. The brief argues that this result is consistent with the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, §20(g), which authorizes the chairs of local boards and committees to control disruption of open meetings by speakers.

A decision by the court can be expected by December or thereafter.