This case protects first amendment rights to participate in local government


Victory! Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled Minnesota Statute § 609.72, subd. 1(2) (2016) is too broad and violates the First Amendment. As a result, Robin Hensel, who was charged with disorderly conduct for her actions during a city council meeting, had her charges dismissed. This decision reversed the lower courts previous ruling that found the statute constitutional. The Minnesota statute is now invalidated.

Case Description

The ACLU of Minnesota believes in citizen's rights to participate in deliberative democracy and local government. The ACLU filed a brief in the State v. Hensel case which involves the prosecution of an activist (a retired woman who had previously sued the city council to challenge their sign ordinance) for disorderly conduct for disturbing a city council public meeting when she moved her chair to an area between the Dais and the public seating area and refused to move it back to the public seating area. She was removed from council chambers and the start of the meeting was delayed while security first attempted to get her to move her chair and then removed her from the building. She moved her chair closer to the Dais to demonstrate the unequal treatment that occurred at a previous meeting in which she sat at the front of the public seating area holding several signs. At that meeting, there were tables and chairs set up between the Dais and public seating area that were left over from a work session that happened earlier in the day. In response to Ms. Hensel's signs, the Council allowed the Mayor's husband and other members of the audience to sit in front of the public seating area during the council meeting so that Ms. Hensel and her signs were to their backs rather than in front of them.

The ACLU of Minnesota argues that Hansel was not guilty of a misdemeanor as her conviction violated the First Amendment unless the actions or speech prevent the ability to conduct the meeting and prevent others from exercising free speech as well. There is not sufficient evidence to suggest that Hansel significantly disturbed the meeting.


Scott Flaherty of Briggs and Morgan, & Teresa Nelson, ACLU-MN

Date filed

May 26, 2016


Minnesota Supreme Court