The Occupy D.C. protesters suing the Interior Department for the right to stay on National Park Service land in McPherson Square moved (PDF) late Tuesday to certify a class, a step that could bring an estimated 100 demonstrators into the case.
The filing comes on the heels of news yesterday that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the handling of Occupy D.C. - entitled, "McPherson Square: Who Made the Decision to Allow Indefinite Camping in the Park?" - on Jan. 24. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, has criticized the National Park Service's decision in the past to allow the demonstrators to stay.
Following a Dec. 4 confrontation between protesters and U.S. Park Police, the protesters sued the Interior Department in an attempt to stop police from moving tents. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg is scheduled to hear oral arguments Jan. 31 on a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would bar police from moving tents except in the case of an emergency. The government’s opposition brief is due today.
There are two named plaintiffs as of now, Laura Potter and Brett Henke. The proposed class, according to the motion, would include all members of the Occupy D.C. demonstration who “own or possess” tents in McPherson Square.
“The idea of the lawsuit was to protect everybody at McPherson Square from being evicted,” said Washington solo practitioner Jeffrey Light, who is representing the plaintiffs, in a phone interview Wednesday. Light said there were practical considerations, too. “If we won, it would only protect this one person’s tent, that wouldn’t provide the relief that we were looking for,” he said.
If the named plaintiffs had to leave McPherson Square in the future, he added, “we wanted to make sure there was some way for the case to continue to be viable regardless of any one person’s individual circumstances.”
Bill Line, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The National Park Service has allowed Occupy D.C. to stay in the park since October, but has said that it reserves the right to enforce a no-camping rule. Occupy D.C. maintains that it is a 24-hour vigil, and that the tents are an integral part of the demonstration. The anti-camping rule, as it relates to protests in D.C., was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1984 decision, Clark v. Community Creative Non-Violence. Boasberg has previously said he expects to hear arguments in the Occupy D.C. case on whether Clark applies.