By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An activist group that has twice disrupted U.S. Supreme Court proceedings in the past year says it does not intend to stage similar protests when the justices hear a major case next week that could gut President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
Kai Newkirk, a spokesman for the group 99Rise, said in an email that "we are not planning anything" in relation to the Obamacare case being argued next Wednesday or the court's other big case of the year on whether states can ban gay marriage, which will be heard in April.
Two of eight protesters arrested after a Jan. 21 disruption pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in District of Columbia Superior Court on Thursday and will each face a sentence of five days in jail, according to Newkirk. The cases involving the other six are still pending.
Disruptions inside the Supreme Court are rare. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg declined to comment on whether the court has adopted any new security precautions ahead of next week's case since the January disruption.
In both protests - the other one took place in February 2014 - 99Rise demonstrators yelled denunciations of the justices' 2010 campaign finance ruling that lifted limits on corporate spending in federal elections. The protesters on Jan. 21 took turns standing up and shouting slogans on the fifth anniversary of that ruling.
In the February 2014 incident, Newkirk was arrested for standing up during a hearing and shouting similar slogans.
On both occasions, the group was able to take video footage of the protests in violation of the ban on recording devices in the courtroom.
To enter the courtroom at the Supreme Court, visitors must pass through two metal detectors. After the 2014 incident, scrutiny of visitors appeared to increase, with police examining more carefully objects that could contain a small camera.
The healthcare case being heard next week is a conservative challenge to the subsidies that are made available to people buying health insurance on government-run exchanges set up as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. If the court rules against the government, subsidies would no longer be available to millions of people in at least 34 states.
In the gay marriage cases, the justices are being asked to decide whether state bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment under the law. Rulings in both cases are due by the end of June.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)