Federal Judge Upholds Denver Convention Protest Zone

Update 8/7: Here's my breakdown of yesterday's federal court decision upholding Denver's planned protest zone.

In a 71 page ruling available here, a federal judge in Denver today upheld Denver's planned protest zone for the Democratic National Convention, finding the plan does not run afoul of the First Amendment. As the Denver Post reports:

The demonstrators wanted the public-protest area moved closer to the delegates coming in and out of the Pepsi Center, and they wanted parade routes to end closer to the venue.

Law-enforcement officials and Denver representatives argued during a one-day trial that there has been a robust effort made to allow groups of all backgrounds to demonstrate and that security concerns superceded the demonstrators' need to be closer to the delegates.

The last paragraphs of the ruling:[More...]

The Court finds that the Plaintiffs have shown that the challenged restrictions affect their ability to engage in expressive activities in traditional public fora. However, the Defendants have shown that the restrictions are content-neutral, that they are narrowly tailored to serve important governmental interests, and that there are adequate alternative channels by which the Plaintiffs can communicate their messages.

Thus, the Plaintiffs have not shown that their First Amendment rights will be infringed, nor that they are entitled to any injunctive relief.

As to the "alternative channels" the ruling states:

In addition to participating in any of the 18 approved parades, the parties are free to assemble, demonstrate, and protest on nearly all of the city’s public streets (subject to compliance with all generally applicable laws and ordinances). They may visit the public/Demonstration Zone, avail themselves of the communicative opportunities afforded by their permits to hold events in city parks, and communicate through innumerable media outlets.

For the reasons previously discussed, the Court finds that, given the minimal burdens on speech reflected in the parade-related denials, the parties have ample alternative channels in which they can adequately communicate their messages.

Still to come: The Judge's ruling on the protest zones at Invesco Field where Sen. Barack Obama will deliver his nomination acceptance speech.

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    Ugh (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by txpolitico67 on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:03:05 AM EST
    whatta joke.  This isn't Tiananmen Square, it's a political convention.

    The Dems are becoming what they loathed.  Free speech supressing hacks.  I wonder if one is going to have to sign a "loyalty oath" at Invesco the day of the event?

    Dems gone wild (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by daryl herbert on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:25:55 AM EST
    See Dems get nasty with their "barely legal" convention

    Watch them almost break all of the rules, and get down and dirty!  Order now and get your free AT&T/telecom immunity tote bag!

    They'll do anything approved by the judiciary--and you get to watch.

    Great comment (5.00 / 0) (#21)
    by Claw on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 06:29:59 AM EST
    And you're right.  This is nasty.  "Protest Zones?"  I'm an unabashed Obama supporter, but as much as I like him, I like the rights to free speech and free association even more.  The Dems should've rejected the idea of free speech zones outright, as a symbol of the Constitution-hating Bush.

    Will they have to (5.00 / 0) (#6)
    by weltec2 on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:29:34 AM EST
    wear monitoring bracelets on their ankles if they want to leave the area? Come on people. A Public Demonstration Zone for Democrats? This is not us. This is not my party. This just sickens me.

    Excuse me, 'content neutral'? (5.00 / 0) (#7)
    by Valhalla on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:34:32 AM EST
    How does that work?  They are being kept caged up because the content of their speech is against the DNC.


    Well, I guess we'll (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by oldpro on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:36:08 AM EST
    have to hope some of those busunder delegates are more radical and annoyed than usual and become protesters with badges.

    Wouldn't be the first time there was a walkout and a rump convention.

    Probably won't happen...but it could.

    Depends, I suppose, on Obama's behavior between now and then and on anything, ANYTHING, the Obama campaign says about the Clintons before the convention.

    We'll find out how surefooted they are in their choice of veep and their sales pitch when they have to explain to every reporter with a camera and a microphone why he 'didn't choose Hillary.'

    I hope they're practicing their talking points.

    1984 Republican Convention, Dallas (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:02:22 AM EST
    I sued over the City's 1 1/2 mile "Security Zone.' The Hon.Barefoot Sanders advised the City to modify their plans, "or you won't like the order I'll write." "The proper balance between legitimate security concerns and the 1st Amendment Right to be within sight and sound is 'a stones throw plus 10 feet.'"

    What's the (none / 0) (#10)
    by oldpro on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:07:53 AM EST
    Olympic stone-throw record?

    We ended up at 175 feet (none / 0) (#13)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:27:09 AM EST
    from the Convention doors.

    UUUUuuu... (none / 0) (#22)
    by weltec2 on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 06:45:49 AM EST
    Nebraska - Florida State: I wouldn't complain about that.

    55 yards! (none / 0) (#25)
    by oldpro on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 09:07:10 AM EST
    Pretty good...less than 1/2 a football field.

    Good job.

    Was it effective from the demonstrators' point of view?  Could you see reactions from those to whom you were demonstrating?  Could they see you as well as hear you or were there obstructions to their view of demonstrators/signs etc.?


    We brought a monster sound system, (none / 0) (#28)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:13:07 PM EST
    dead kennedys played as the delegates filtered out.

    I was 16 (none / 0) (#11)
    by txpolitico67 on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:08:38 AM EST
    living here in Fort Worth and I remember my aunt who was SUPER active in politics wanted me to go with her to demonstrate over in Dallas.

    I was sick that week and had missed school.  I regret not going.  My aunt Pauline was the one who got me involved in politics helping Speaker Jim Wright.

    I think it SUX that everything has to be so damn sanitized for the sake of not offending the likes of Bush 43 or Obama.

    Pitiful, pathetic cowards.  They can sure dish out the criticism but they can't take it.  Say what you will about the Clintons, but they take their critics HEAD ON!


    Had me arrested 3 times outside 1996 (none / 0) (#14)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:33:08 AM EST
    Democratic Convention, twice for leafletting, then an indictment on 6 felonies for participating  in an anti-death penalty march that swelled from 1 lane to 2.

    Acquitted in bench trials on all counts, eventually collected big $ from the City of Chicago on false arrest claims.

    The area Denver's designated has somewhat better visibility than that in Chicago.


    Security Concerns Are Real (5.00 / 0) (#26)
    by liberalone on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 10:35:23 AM EST
    Tensions are far too high for any public official to take chances.  If there are two protests occurring simultaneously a protest and a counter-protest, they usually divide the sides.  Even with the physical distance between the sides, there are often confrontations. The Democratic party now seems to have two waring factions that need neutral corners.

    While I whole heartedly agree that we should be able to apply the stones throw rule, I would err on the side of safety for all concerned.

    Gotta disagree... (none / 0) (#29)
    by kdog on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:10:30 PM EST
    I would err on the side of liberty...for all concerned.

    Jeralyn (none / 0) (#3)
    by shoephone on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 12:22:44 AM EST
    I can't tell from reading the Denver Post article how far the protest zones are from the convention site. More than a block? Two blocks?

    Acrooss a wide street, then (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:25:57 AM EST
    most of the parking lot. Something like 500-600 feet. Not clear if there'll be visual obstructions (busses?) in between.

    Thanks, Ben (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by shoephone on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:48:48 AM EST
    I suppose the cages might be considered visual obstructions...

    This whole thing is going to be pretty weird to watch on TV. Wonder how much of the protests will be carried by the national media. I'm sure Amy Goodman from Democracy Now will be on it like white on rice!


    There's always been chain link except (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:53:59 AM EST
    1976 and 1980 D Conventions in New York, when we were on the sidewalk directly across 8th Avenue. We were allowed 1 vehicle in the parking lane, my van, as a stage.

    Here's a photo (none / 0) (#27)
    by echinopsia on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 10:39:18 AM EST
    taken from the front of the Pepsi Center looking towards the protest zone in the parking lot.

    There is actually a person holding a sign in the the photo. See if you can spot him.

    Hello, is there a protester out there?


    But the parking lot (none / 0) (#31)
    by weltec2 on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 08:09:30 PM EST
    is actually the protest zone, right. So if I understand correctly, this the photo is a bit misleading because the parking lot is right in front of where that car is stopped at the corner.

    One small part of the parking lot (none / 0) (#32)
    by echinopsia on Fri Aug 08, 2008 at 10:19:42 AM EST
    is the protest zone. It's a BIG parking lot - it surrounds the building. The protest zone is off in a corner of Lot A.

    Here's a map.

    Here's another map that shows the entire parking area.


    A bit closer than St. Paul (none / 0) (#15)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 01:42:15 AM EST
    where all permits end at 8:00, so you don't get to impact press and delegates as they leave.

    The physical layout in St Paul is quite different tho, there's no surface parking lots, and the Mississipi's right across the street, so there's not really any good venue to deny.

    I've just obtained a permit for Hamm Plaza, Sept. 4, 4:00 til 8:00, for a "Stop Government Spying" event the last night of the R. Convention. Tiny space, limited to 91 attendees, a block from the back entrance.

    Facebook Event page

    Page 18 of the ruling (none / 0) (#18)
    by Ben Masel on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 02:13:17 AM EST
    Additional avenues for communication
    Although the Convention will require the closure of some streets in and around the Pepsi
    Center, the remainder of traditional public fora in the city will remain open and available to those wishing to express themselves.  Commonly used public fora such as Speer Boulevard south of
    Larimer Street, the 16 Street pedestrian mall, and all downtown sidewalks will remain available for First Amendment expression, subject only to generally applicable state laws and city
    ordinances.  In addition, the City of Denver has issued scores of permits to groups - including
    some of the Plaintiffs - who seek to conduct rallies, demonstrations, and events in various city parks during the Convention.  These events and gatherings are expected to involve thousands to tens of thousands of participants and, one may reasonably assume, will attract significant media

    As I look closer, this does not seem as bad as first impression.

    Aside form all the "normal" issues (none / 0) (#19)
    by nycstray on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 02:51:21 AM EST
    how will this play after the Olympics? We are getting ready to look at a couple of weeks of American Pride.

    "protest zones"- reeks of repression (none / 0) (#20)
    by Bornagaindem on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 06:18:29 AM EST
    Sorry but I will never understand how we have freedom of protest and freedom of assembly when you can't do it where the people you are protesting can see or hear you. Keeping you out of their actual meeting room/hall? fine - but making the  people you are protesting run the gauntlet before they get there-what is the big deal? This is not the america I know and I am ashamed that  the democratic party I used to believe in is engaging in this.

    How do you know who is a protesters? (none / 0) (#23)
    by Saul on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 08:13:47 AM EST

    What's to keep a protester to appear as a non protester in order to get closer?

    "Security Concerns"..... (none / 0) (#24)
    by kdog on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 08:41:32 AM EST
    talk about a loaded phrase.

    What about the "security concerns" of the protesters?  They want to secure the bill of rights, they want to secure peace and an end to foreign occupations, they want to secure themselves from arrest for bullsh*t crimes...I guess these are the rare cases where the freedom to tyranize trumps "security".

    Living up to our ideals is too messy...an aristocrat might get incovenienced and we can't have that now can we?

    The concept of "free speech zones" (none / 0) (#30)
    by FemB4dem on Thu Aug 07, 2008 at 07:29:37 PM EST
    should be repugnant to anyone who treasures their First Amendment rights.  Progressives have screamed about this through the Dubya years, and we have been right to do so.  Who would have thought that the DNC would perpetuate this most loathesome of the BushCo inventions?  Ugh.  This alone is reason enough for this old ACLU Democrat not to vote for the DNC-selected One.  What a joke.  

    Well.... (none / 0) (#33)
    by Ave on Fri Aug 08, 2008 at 01:48:48 PM EST
    My heart goes out tot he family for being held up and i do feel bad for the animals.  But i'm not outraged at all honestly.  This kind of thing happens all around the country, but to much less affluent people that don't have the support or the means to fight back.