Trump Administration Moves To Limit Protests In Front Of White House & At National Mall, ACLU Responds

The move could result in charging fees for protests.

A protester holds up a sign against the Trump administration.
Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images

The move could result in charging fees for protests.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded this week to a series of proposals by the Trump administration that would curtail protests in front of the White House and at the National Mall — the site of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963.

As the ACLU notes on its blog — the National Park Service, which in addition to famed national parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite — also has jurisdiction over much of Washington. That includes the area in front of the White House as well as the National Mall.

And in a document revealed to the public in August by the Washington Post, the National Park Service is seeking public comment on a couple of moves that would severely restrict the rights of protesters to make their voices heard in Washington.

One proposed rule, for example, would cut down the amount of space on the sidewalk in front of the White House where protests could take place, limiting the area by 20 feet. Since the sidewalk in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is only 25 feet wide, that would limit protests to a five-foot wide sliver of land in front of the fence.

The ACLU isn’t having it.

“This is perhaps the most iconic public forum in America, allowing “We the People” to express our views directly to the chief executive, going back at least to the women’s suffrage movement 100 years ago.”

Another proposed rule would charge a fee for any large-scale protests at the National Mall. Ostensibly those fees would help to mitigate the cost of cleanup, according to theWashington Post. It’s not clear, as of this writing, what the exact figure of those fees might be.

ACLU of D.C. Co-Director Arthur Spritzer writes that such fees could have ended King’s famed March on Washington, which took place in August of 1963, before it even began.

“Fee requirements could make mass protests like Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington and its “I have a dream” speech too expensive to happen.”

Another proposal would limit so-called “spontaneous” protests, requiring would-be protesters to apply for permission as much as 48 hours in advance. This flies in the face of Vietnam War-era court rulings that note that the right to free speech — immediate free speech, when necessary — is sacrosanct.

“Timeliness is essential to effective dissent. Delay may stifle protest as effectively as outright censorship,” the decision from Judge J. Skelly Wright reads, as relayed by the ACLU.

In its formal, written comment on the proposed regulations, the ACLU noted, in broad terms, how the right of free speech deserves to be held in a place of paramount importance.

“The amendments now proposed harken back to the era in which the courts had to be called upon to protect the right to dissent in the nation’s capital.”

It’s unclear, as of this writing, how much — if anything — that Trump himself had to do with the proposed rules. Trump has, however, made his thoughts known on protesting in general, and of protests against him, specifically. For example, as the Washington Post reported at the time, Trump suggested that protesting should be illegal.

“I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters.”

The public has until October 15 to offer comment on the National Park Service’s proposed rule changes.