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The Washington Post

Rights of Protesters Violated, Judge Rules

Carol D. Leonnig

The Bush administration violated the public's right to free speech by keeping protesters far removed from the 2005 inaugural parade, a judge ruled yesterday.0321 03

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman found that the National Park Service violated its own regulations by giving the inauguration's private organizers preferential treatment and extraordinary control over access to Pennsylvania Avenue. The Presidential Inaugural Committee roped off most of the parade route and allowed only those with tickets inside: largely a crowd of Bush administration donors, supporters and friends coming to celebrate the start of President Bush's second term.

Protesters were limited to small, specific areas, leading to a lawsuit by antiwar activists.

"The inauguration is not a private event," Friedman said in his ruling. "The National Park Service, on behalf of the PIC, cannot reserve all of Pennsylvania Avenue for itself, leaving only the Ellipse and the northern part of John Marshall Park to protesters."

Unless overturned on appeal, the ruling would force the Park Service to make more room for passing spectators, activists, residents and tourists in the next presidential inauguration, in January.

Friedman said the Park Service allowed the Presidential Inaugural Committee to apply almost a year ahead of anyone else for a permit, contrary to its usual regulations. It then granted the committee exclusive use of nearly all of the parade route from the Capitol to the White House and allowed the group to use the area for five months before Inauguration Day, instead of the typical three weeks.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the antiwar ANSWER Coalition, cheered the ruling and said protesters would finally get a fair chance at the upcoming inauguration.

"We're thrilled that the National Park Service can no longer privatize Pennsylvania Avenue and restrict its use only to the donors and supporters of the incoming administration," she said. "This is an end to their very strained efforts to stage-manage democracy at the inauguration."

A Justice Department attorney for the Park Service said the government was reviewing the judge's decision and considering its options.

The government argued recently in the case that its permits did not prevent protesters from exercising their rights to free speech.

"These claims seem to be at odds with plaintiff's website proclamations, claiming that their 'anti-war mass rally on the inaugural parade route today was so successful,' " the government wrote. "Indeed, plaintiff proudly proclaimed that its demonstration was '[t]he first thing that [President] Bush saw as the presidential motorcade began the parade route.'"

© 2008 The Washington Post

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