July 17, 2008
A U.S. district court judge upheld a decision by the city of St. Paul, Minn., to restrict the route and timing of a parade protesting the Iraq war during the Republican National Convention.
Noting that the president, vice president and other political figures are expected to attend the convention, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Erickson wrote Wednesday that security concerns justified the city’s placing some restrictions on the permit for the parade.
“Threats to the convention that the Secret Service must consider include terrorist attacks, lone gunmen, fire, chemical or biological attacks, detonation of explosive devices and suicide attacks,” Erickson wrote.
The city’s decision to deny protesters the ability to “encircle the arena, marching on every route that directly abuts the convention site” served the substantial government interest of securing the site, Erickson ruled.
A coalition of protest groups had filed suit, with the support of the Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing the restrictions violated their First Amendment rights.
While war protesters won’t get to surround the Xcel Energy Center, under the permit provided by the city they will be able to march past two of the three media sites for the convention, according to Erickson.
She said protesters appear to have “unprecedented access” to the convention site in comparison with past Democratic and Republican conventions, despite the restrictions.
Teresa Nelson, legal counsel to the ACLU in Minnesota, said no decision has been made on appealing the decision. She said the protest groups and ACLU are “very disappointed” that Erickson appeared to take the city’s concerns “at face value.”
By restricting the timing and route of the parade, the groups are worried the city might risk the safety of the event. Nelson also said the judge’s comparisons to actions at other conventions missed the point, in that Erickson should have merely considered whether the city’s restrictions on the First Amendment were necessary in St. Paul.
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