Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Judge: Convention Rules Unconstitutional

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Judge: Convention Rules Unconstitutional

Article excerpt

CLEVELAND - Cleveland's recently enacted restrictions on parades, protests and speeches in a 3.3-square-mile "Event Zone" during the Republican National Convention next month violate the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Later in the day, the Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP said that federal, county and city law enforcement officials had visited more than a dozen local activists at their homes to "intimidate [them] and others in an effort to discourage people from engaging in lawful First Amendment activities" during the convention. The officers asked about past home addresses, political and social affiliations, and RNC-related activities, the groups said in a press release.

In U.S. District Court, Judge James S. Gwin concluded a 90-minute hearing by granting the ACLU of Ohio a temporary restraining order barring implementation of the restrictions. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last week.

Judge Gwin urged the city and the plaintiffs in the ACLU suit -Organize Ohio, Citizens for Trump, and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless - to try to work out plans for parades and rallies. Later, he issued an order referring the case to fellow U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster for mediation.

Judge Gwin said government must narrowly tailor statutes that affect the First Amendment and must demonstrate that alternate measures would fail to achieve the government's interests, not just that the chosen method was easier. He said the city had not shown a "significant government interest" in establishing such a large Event Zone around Quicken Loans Arena, known as "The Q," where the convention will be held July 18-21.

Nor had the city done so in allowing just one parade route - across the nearly mile-long Lorain Carnegie Bridge and onto Ontario Avenue, Downtown. At its closest, that route comes only within 1,000 feet of the rear of The Q and only during a limited number of hours when the convention's delegates were not likely to be in session. Also, only 18 parade permits will be issued during the entire convention.

He also found unconstitutional the allowance of only one site where demonstrators could stand on a platform above the crowd and speak using electronic amplification. The regulations barred them from doing so elsewhere. Two small parks were designated for protests but only through art, such as signs.

Stewart Hastings, the city's attorney, argued the city was not abridging free speech or assembly and that security, safety and emergency egress to hospitals made such restrictions in the Event Zone necessary, but Judge Gwin cut him off.

"How is this different than yesterday?" he said, referring to the estimated 1 million to 1.3 million people who crowded Downtown on Wednesday for a victory parade by the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. …

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