The frequency and success of anti-Trump protests, as well as other protests, since Donald Trump was inaugurated last month is leading to a slew of new anti-protest legislation, according to an attorney and a research fellow who works for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Over the past year, a historic level of activism and protest has spilled out into our nation’s parks, streets, and sidewalks — places where our First Amendment rights are at their height,” Lee Rowland and Vera Eidelman wrote in an article published by Common Dreams. “The January 21 Women’s March, anchored in D.C. with echoes across the nation, was likely the single largest day of protest in American history. And yet, legislators in many states have followed up on this exuberant activism with proposed bills that are not only far less inspiring, but also unconstitutional.”
— Common Dreams (@commondreams) February 18, 2017
Rowland and Eidelman provide several examples of what they see as an all-too-common trend among lawmakers to respond to legal protests with anti-protest bills.
- After President Trump enacted his discriminatory Muslim ban at U.S. ports of entry, protests immediately erupted at airports nationwide, including a weekend-long protest at Denver International Airport. In response, the airport started enforcing a rule that requires protestors to submit an application a week before holding any demonstration.
- In opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, protestors and water protectors camped out for more than a year near North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation. The protests were effective: They led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit for the pipeline and delayed construction for weeks. The response? Legislators in North Dakota introduced a cascade of bills that would allow drivers to run over protesters obstructing a highway, as long as the drivers did so accidentally; would punish wearing a mask in any public forum or in a group on private property; would sentence protestors at private facilities with up to 30 days in prison; and would punish protestors who cause $1,000 in economic harm with five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- In Minnesota, following the police shooting death of Philando Castile, protests caused part of a highway to shut down. Then, at the beginning of the state legislative session, Minnesota legislators drafted bills that would punish highway protestors with heavy fines and prison time and would make protesters liable for the policing costs of an entire protest if they individually were convicted of unlawful assembly or public nuisance.
Rowland and Eidelman point out that while lawmakers try to make the case that these laws are being passed to protect citizens, the reality is that laws are already in place to protect citizens from the exact same situations outlined in the new laws. The only difference is that the new laws provide for harsher penalties.
For instance, they note that it was already illegal in every jurisdiction in the United States to willfully obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic or to trespass on private property. The new laws to not provide new protections; they just more severely punish those who violate them. For this reason, Rowland and Eidelman argue that the sole purpose of such bills is “chilling protest.”
Rowland and Eidelman also highlight the fact that bills favoring motorists over protestors present a peculiar legal and Constitutional quandary because driving is not considered a legal right. It is a privilege granted at the discretion of local and state authorities. Protesting, however, is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.
In an ironic turn, protests against these bills have already caused some of them to die in committee before they could be passed.
— ndnviewpoint (@mahtowin1) February 14, 2017
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