First Amendment

Federal judge scraps Cleveland's restrictions on protests during RNC in July

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U.S. District Judge James Gwin has struck down Cleveland’s plans for a 3.3-square-mile event zone to prohibit protests and parades during the Republican National Convention next month. Gwin cited the zone as unconstitutional and an infringement of the rights to free speech and assembly, reported.

During the hearing, Gwin said the size of the event zone around the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention will be held July 18 to 21, is “unduly large.” According to The Atlantic, constitutional “sight and sound” requirements say protesters have the right to be near their targets.

The city said the event zone boundaries were created for the safety of people coming to downtown. However, Gwin questioned the city’s reasoning and asked how the convention protests were different from the more than 1 million people who filled downtown Wednesday for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship parade and “traveled through streets in what will become the event zone,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

City attorney Stewart Hastings argued the convention has been planned for years and that it was the ideal scene for international and domestic terrorism. “I don’t believe ISIS predicted the Cavs would be in a parade,” Hastings said, according to the newspaper.

Additionally, the city is restricting the parade route to the mile-long Lorain-Carnegie Bridge and through Ontario Avenue in downtown Cleveland, which comes within 1,000 feet of the back of the arena. The Post-Gazette also said the parades must end by 2 p.m. on the first day of the convention and by 1 p.m. the other three days.

“How many convention delegates even get up before 1 p.m.?” Gwin said during the hearing. “Why not allow them on Carnegie Avenue the same as the Cavs?”

“There’s a difference,” Hastings said. “Those were happy people and very, very different than the kind of people we expect to be coming to Cleveland. People are coming to do criminal mischief.”

With less than a month left before Republican leaders and delegates arrive, Cleveland officials have to scramble to redefine new boundaries. According to the Post-Gazette, Gwin issued an order referring the case to U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster for mediation. The city hoped to appeal the judge’s order, but it is now negotiating with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which brought the lawsuit last week on behalf of demonstration groups Citizens for Trump, Organize Ohio and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

“Every municipality starts out with, ‘We love the First Amendment, we love everybody’s rights’ … and then the convention comes and they arrest everybody,” Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio told The Atlantic. “This all begins to look and feel a little like martial law. Court cases have said, you can have your zones, but they can be no larger than absolutely required for safety purposes.”

The ACLU also sued Philadelphia on Thursday over demonstration restrictions, reported.

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