Federal court issues permanent order prohibiting State from blocking tent city protests
Boise, ID—A federal court today issued a permanent order prohibiting the State of Idaho from interfering with around-the-clock tent city protests, such as the protest Occupy Boise held during 2011 and 2012 on the grounds of the old Ada County Courthouse. Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in a decision that the State’s policy of enforcing a camping ban against protesters like Occupy Boise “targets political speech for suppression” and “violates the group’s First Amendment rights.”
The order declares the State’s enforcement policies unconstitutional and permanently orders the State to enforce the camping ban consistently with the court’s decisions. The ACLU of Idaho, which represents Occupy Boise and individual protesters who brought the lawsuit, lauded the decision. “This has been a long and costly battle over liberties that the State should treasure, not suppress,” said Richard Eppink, Legal Director of the ACLU of Idaho and Occupy Boise’s attorney. “Let’s hope this permanent injunction gets our elected leaders to stop and think, and to start welcoming dissent, rather than trying to squelch it.”
The court also noted a pattern of State repression against Occupy protesters, noting the “State’s history of targeting Occupy” and that the State has “not definitively disclaimed their past policy of suppressing protected speech.” Dean Gunderson, an Occupy Boise activist and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that “this is a great decision. It’s unfortunate that the State and the legislature felt compelled to violate Idahoans’ First Amendment rights. We look forward to the day when we can truly have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The decision is the latest in a lawsuit against Idaho Governor Butch Otter and other state officials that began in February 2012 after the State enacted a new camping ban that State officials planned to use to evict Occupy Boise. The federal court halted the eviction, and then later in the November 2013 decision, held that additional protest restrictions the State later imposed were also unconstitutional. Among other rules, Judge Winmill struck down a seven-day duration limit for protests as unconstitutional, in a ruling that may be the first in the country to decide whether the government can limit the length of time a single group can maintain a continuous protest. The Court also struck down a rule that allowed the State to choose to sponsor certain events, which would then become exempt from all restrictions and found that rules allowing the state to impose fees and cost to protestors were unconstitutional.
During the 2014 legislative session, the Idaho legislature struck down those restrictions in light of the court’s decision. The court’s order today acknowledges that those rules no longer exist, bringing the lawsuit close to its conclusion.