Violation of freedom of speech and assembly
The ACLU of Minnesota and the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild filed suit in federal district court against the City of Saint Paul on behalf of the Coalition to March on the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the group Stop the War. The complaint challenged the City's violation of the Coalition's rights to free speech and due process of law in connection with the Coalition's plans to demonstrate at the RNC in Saint Paul on September 1, 2008. The complaint sought to require the City to grant the Coalition's request for a demonstration permit in sufficient detail and to require the City to amend its permit procedure to provide basic due process to permit applicants.
The City had violated the Coalition's right to free speech and due process by failing to issue anything other than an ambiguous "Conditional Alternative Permit" in response to the Coalition's demonstration application. The "Conditional Alternative Permit" imposed police guidelines that conflicted with a city ordinance and violated the First Amendment, while also failing to accommodate the large, national demonstration expected. The permit provided for a 2,000 square foot area in the shape of a triangle across the street from the Xcel Center. Use of that space was allowed for less than two hours and required that the march proceed along a 1,000-foot long turn about, then turn back on itself, and return to the State Capitol Building on the same road they marched in on. This limited time and space could not have accommodated 50,000 protesters.
The City of Saint Paul simultaneously maintained that the issued permit provided a sufficient answer to the Coalition's application, and that it did not constitute a final permit sufficient to warrant an appeal. Such an ambiguous position restrained both the Coalition's speech rights and its access to administrative process. The ACLU of Minnesota requested that the the Coalition be granted its permit in full in the interest of free speech and rigorous public discourse. We also asked that the Coalition be given sufficient time to continue planning for the influx of up to 50,000 demonstrators in Saint Paul for the September 2008 Republican National Convention.
The Honorable Judge Ericksen heard the case and rendered her decision, granting the City's desired route and refusing to order changes to the time and duration of the march.
"We are disappointed in the final decision regarding both route and time," stated Teresa Nelson, Legal Director at the ACLU of Minnesota. "We understand and appreciate that the City has significant security concerns with regard to the Convention but we continued to seek a meaningful balance between those concerns and our clients' right to effectively deliver their message of peace. The Court has simply deferred to the City's stated concerns with no real analysis of them."