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Supreme Court spectator interrupts justices

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 7:53 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Man seated in courtroom began talking loudly about campaign finance reform
  • Spectator outbursts are rare at Supreme Court
  • The justices ignored the incident, and the man was led out by security

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court was the scene of an unusual disturbance during its public session on Wednesday, when a man interrupted an oral argument.

The incident occurred near the end of debate between the nine justices on the bench and counsel, in a case over attorney fees in patent disputes.

A man in a suit and dark tie rose from near the back of the marbled courtroom, and began loudly talking.

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Witnesses said he spoke about the need to keep campaign finance reform laws in place to regulate election spending and contributions.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court sit for their official photograph on October 8, 2010, at the Supreme Court. Front row, from left: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Back row, from left: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito Jr. and Elena Kagan. The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court sit for their official photograph on October 8, 2010, at the Supreme Court. Front row, from left: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Back row, from left: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito Jr. and Elena Kagan.
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"Money is not speech," he reportedly said. "Overturn 'Citizens United!'" referring to a 2010 high court decision loosening a century of federal restrictions on corporate spending by "independent" groups like businesses and unions.

He was only able say a few words before police escorted him from the courtroom, and did not resist.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg identified the man as Noah Newkirk of Los Angeles.

Newkirk has been charged with violating federal law that makes it a crime to "harangue" or utter "loud threatening or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building."

The justices ignored the incident.

The court's official written transcript of the argument made no mention of the remarks.

Such outbursts are rare.

Court officials say the last time it happened was eight years ago, during an oral argument over a federal law restricting a certain type of later-term abortion procedure.

A similar interruption occurred about two decades ago.

The courtroom has about 330 seats available to the public. Court security instructs spectators before each public session to remain seated, not to speak, or demonstrate.

Signs also are not allowed, nor are any electronics or cameras.

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