County's new restrictions unconstitutionally restrict the demonstrators' free speech rights
After pressing Hennepin County for weeks to rescind restrictions placed on Occupy Minneapolis protestors and their 24/7 demonstration on the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit on behalf of the group and four named individuals.
The individuals were selected by the OccupyMpls General Assembly to pursue litigation on behalf of the group. The lawsuit argued that the County's new restrictions unconstitutionally restrict the demonstrators' free speech rights. OccupyMPLS has been continuously "occupying" the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza since October 7, 2011, to express their frustration with the growing economic and political inequities in this country. The complaint argues that the new "Procedures for Public Use of the Hennepin County Government Center" issued by Hennepin County and certain unwritten procedures enforced by the County violate the demonstrators' First Amendment rights because:
- The rules were expressly created in response to OccupyMPLS, which is a content-based limitation on speech.
- The rules put forth impermissible time, place, and manner restrictions.The rules are unconstitutionally overbroad.
- The rules are a result of arbitrary and unconstitutional decision-making.
- The unwritten procedures were designed to suppress Plaintiff's speech and are inconsistent with how the County has treated other groups.
The complaint, which provides details of the County's restrictions on signage, chalking and access to electricity, as well as the demonstrators' ability to sleep and stay warm during the winter months, asks the Court to declare that the "Procedures for Public Use of the Hennepin County Government Center" and certain unwritten rules relating to chalk, electricity, and use of structures are unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ACLU of Minnesota sought a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, halting the rules until the case could be fully heard.
Shortly after a hearing on the motion on November 23, 2011, U.S. District Judge Kyle denied ACLU-MN's motion on all counts except for a challenge to a rule prohibiting the affixing of signs on the plaza. The success in challenging the prohibition on affixed signs proved to be short-lived; however, because the defendants indicated that they intended to modify the prohibition so that it would likely pass constitutional muster. At a court-ordered settlement conference the four individual plaintiffs agreed to settle the lawsuit by dropping the case in exchange for some modest concessions by Hennepin County, including the return of seized property, the lifting of some no-trespass notices received by group members, and rental of a storage locker on the premises for property needed to maintain their demonstration on the Plaza.
The outcome of the case is disappointing but it is consistent with court cases around the nation that have allowed government actors to impose severe restrictions on the ability of the Occupy Wall Street movement to maintain a 24/7 presence in public spaces in order to draw attention to their movement.
Plaintiffs include Occupy Minneapolis and individuals Benjamin Egerman, Benjamin Painter, Samuel Richards, and Melissa Rowan.