On Monday, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) will appear in federal court to defend the right of people to protest in front of the Washington, D.C., Trump Hotel, on Freedom Plaza and elsewhere alongside the Presidential Inaugural Parade on “America’s Main Street,” Pennsylvania Avenue.
Oral argument will be presented in A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition v. Ralph Basham, et al., Case No. 16-5047 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday, November 14, 2016.
The government holds the position that on Inauguration Day space alongside the Pennsylvania Avenue Inaugural Parade route — including Freedom Plaza and the area in front of the Trump Hotel — will be free speech exclusion zones reserved for Trump supporters and funders.
In an unprecedented court filing, the U.S. Government and its Justice Department argue that the government may take the public parklands, sidewalks and streets of America at the central moment of their use by the people for assembly, speech and debate, and petitioning of the government, and redesignate these public spaces into exclusive “government speech” or No Free Speech Zones. There is no limitation to the scope of these zones.
The government has argued in its brief to the Court that with respect to these exclusion zones, “the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment is not implicated.” That is, Free Speech rights under the First Amendment do not apply to demonstrations on public space if the government chooses to support a pro-government or favored viewpoint instead.
This is a new constitutional doctrine — carving a massive hole into the First Amendment — that the Justice Department is for the very first time in history arguing exists.
At Monday’s hearing, the PCJF will demand that Freedom Plaza — so named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership of a civil rights movement that spoke truth to power and that so profoundly benefited our society — be made available to dissent, and that the buffer zone around Trump Hotel reserved for Trump supporters be struck down by the Court.
“People are coming to Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day to exercise their free speech rights in opposition to racism, misogyny and bigotry. But the government wants to stage-manage democracy. The extreme danger posed to the Bill of Rights and the right to protest by the actions of the government in this mater cannot be overstated,” stated PCJF Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, who is arguing the case.
“If the government wins court approval of this radical evisceration of First Amendment rights, you can expect that President Trump will be able to displace protest on public space at will simply by declaring that public fora like our sidewalks and parks are reserved for private organizations espousing a pro-government viewpoint,” stated Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard. “If they can do it on Pennsylvania Avenue, ‘America’s Main Street,’ on Inauguration Day, they will do it everywhere they wish.”
“The transition of authority will be peaceful, but it will not be quiet,” says PCJF Legal Director Carl Messineo. “Faced with a promised radical agenda to eradicate fundamental rights, people across the nation are already taking to the streets. At this critical moment in democracy, the National Park Service seeks to shunt dissent off to the side, pushing it off Freedom Plaza and away from the Trump Hotel, and giving preferential treatment to pro-Trump supporters.”
The PCJF has fought for the right to protest along the Inaugural Parade Route for 16 years regardless of administration, starting in 2001. This case has been litigated since 2005, from the second Inauguration of George W. Bush. Click here for more background information on the case and to read recent court filings.