LOS ANGELES - Judge Gary Feess issued a written order today requiring the City of Los Angeles and its police department to accommodate free speech during the Democratic National Convention and prohibiting them enforcing their current park use and parade permit granting schemes. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sought the preliminary injunction on behalf of Service Employees International Union, Local 660; the Los Angeles Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the D2K Convention Planning Coalition, all of whom plan peaceful protests near the convention site.
"The court's order is a ringing defense of our Constitutional rights to speak freely and to gather peacefully," said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "It identifies political conventions as crucial to our democracy, and it decisively rejects the LAPD's attempt to cut off speakers from their audience. This is a real victory for free speech, for our democracy, and for the people of Los Angeles."
The ACLU brought its case to challenge three limits the City has placed or plans to place on free speech: the City's proposed "security zone," which would have sealed off a 186-acre area around the convention site from any free speech activity; the City's parade permit granting scheme, which requires a 40-day advance application and has a waiver process without any limit on the City's discretion, and the City's requirement of a permit for any free speech activity in a park which might draw a crowd. Judge Feess's order prevents the City from limiting First Amendment rights in any of these ways. The City and the Los Angeles Police Department must create constitutional alternatives to their unconstitutional plans.
"The LAPD's job is to ensure that officers create an atmosphere of respect, calm, and order within the bounds of our Constitution," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California, "The LAPD until now has insisted on presenting us with a false choice: security or freedom of speech. Judge Feess very properly rejected that formulation."
"It's absolutely critical at this juncture," said Ripston, "to defuse the fearful, overwrought atmosphere that has been created by LAPD leaders about civilians exercising their free speech rights. If officers are fearful and feel besieged before the Convention even starts, then they're much less likely to use their best judgment and reason when responding to the challenges an event of this magnitude presents."
The ACLU is joined in this lawsuit by attorney Carol Sobel, Robert Myers, of Newman. Aronson. Vanaman., and law professor Karl Manheim of Loyola Law School.