By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld a federal law banning protests on the marble plaza directly in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, saying demonstrators are free to protest nearby.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the law does not violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech.
Harold Hodge, a student from Maryland, challenged the law after he was arrested in January 2011 for standing on the plaza holding a sign stating that the government "allows police to illegally murder and brutalize African-Americans and Hispanic people."
Protesters are generally allowed to stand on the sidewalk in front of the court but not on the plaza, which is reached by walking up several steps from the sidewalk.
Writing on behalf of a three-judge panel, Judge Sri Srinivasan, said the plaza, part of the Supreme Court grounds, is not a traditional public forum.
The government "can impose reasonable restrictions on speech as long as it refrains from suppressing particular viewpoints," he said, adding that protesters can still make their voices heard via the sidewalk area.
The court reversed a June 2013 ruling by U.S. District Judge Beryl Powell. She wrote that the law is "unreasonable, substantially overbroad, and irreconcilable with the First Amendment."
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Susan Heavey)