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RNC Protest Rules to be Revised After Judge Says They're Unconstitutional

In response to ACLU lawsuit, judge says Cleveland's rules for protesters during the Republican National Convention are unconstitutional

Downtown Cleveland. (Photo: Chris Gent/flickr/cc)

The ACLU of Ohio and the city of Cleveland have reached a settlement after a judge on Thursday struck down the rules set by city officials for protesters at next month's Republican National Convention, saying the restrictions on speeches and parades were unconstitutional.

The decision from U.S. District Judge James Gwin comes in response to a lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU of Ohio, which said the rules were "arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjustifiable." 

According to Cleveland.com, Gwin said:

  • the size of the so-called Event Zone is "unduly large;"
  • the parade route is unconstitutionally insufficient;
  • the times at which people can hold parades—only for a few hours each day of the convention and not during the hours in which the delegates are expected to be downtown—are problematic and "an insufficient opportunity for First Amendment purposes;" and
  • there are "constitutional problems with the use of the parks."

The RNC takes place in Cleveland from July 18-21.

Given the short timeline, ACLU of Ohio attorneys negotiated with the city at Gwin's behest to come up with a compromise. The details of that agreement, announced Friday, have not yet been made public.

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The Cleveland.com editorial board wrote on Thursday:

Three changes that Cleveland should make right away would go a long way -- maybe all the way -- to resolving this mess.

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The first would be to allow protesters on Ontario Street across from The Q -- the street is expected to be closed anyway and barricades could keep protesters out of any Secret Service exclusion zone.

The second would be to give protesters easier access to Public Square and other high-profile sites farther from the convention.

A third would be to allow protests during late-afternoon and evening hours when delegates are likely to be attending the convention.

Both the ACLU and groups that are planning to demonstrate during the convention were pleased with Gwin's ruling.

"Clearly the legal system worked today, when a federal judge ruled that peaceful protestors deserve the right to have their voices heard," the coalition Stand Together Against Trump declared on Facebook. "That's what we've been fighting for—and we think this is a step in the right direction. We're hopeful the City will work with us moving forward."

Meanwhile, the Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (Ohio NLG) and the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP are crying foul over reports that local and federal police are knocking on the doors of community activists in advance of the convention. More than a dozen people in Cleveland have reported visits this week from law enforcement officials with the Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, FBI's Cleveland Field Office, Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, and Cleveland Division of Police.

"The purpose of these door knocks is simple: to intimidate the target and others in an effort to discourage people from engaging in lawful First Amendment activities," said Jocelyn Rosnick, co-coordinator for the Ohio NLG, in a statement (pdf). "We are concerned these visits will chill the free speech activities of individuals wishing to lawfully protest and that individuals who are not planning to be involved in the RNC are being harassed due to their associations."

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