With less than a week until the presidential inauguration, a Washington federal judge handed a win yesterday to a group of activists challenging regulations that set aside certain spaces along the parade route exclusively for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Although the ruling is a victory for the group, it's unlikely to affect this year's parade.
U.S. District Senior Judge Paul Friedman found that the group, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, could challenge regulations that applied to areas where they hadn't applied for permits to demonstrate. Friedman didn't address the underlying allegations that the regulations represented a violation of the right to assemble under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The opinion (PDF) meant ANSWER's case could move forward, but there's little chance of a ruling on the merits in time to affect inauguration activities on January 21. A lead attorney for ANSWER, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said today that activists are still planning to demonstrate, to the extent they're able, and that they're glad they can move ahead with challenging the regulations.
The federal government defendants "created a situation where they're allowing a private political party to determine who may be speaking and who may be visible and whose voices may be heard along Pennsylvania Avenue," Verheyden-Hilliard said, referring to the parade route.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior said they do not comment on pending litigation.
ANSWER, described in court filings as an unincorporated grassroots organization that demonstrates against racism and war, first sued the Interior Department in 2005 over how much space downtown the National Park Service designated exclusively for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
According to yesterday's opinion, ANSWER requested a permit to demonstrate at Freedom Plaza during the inauguration and also indicated that activists planned to protest in other public spaces along the parade route. The National Park Service acknowledged that ANSWER was the "first-in-time" to request a permit for Freedom Plaza but ultimately revoked it, citing regulations setting aside part of Freedom Plaza for the inaugural committee.
Regulations reserving certain space for the inaugural committee, including at Freedom Plaza but also elsewhere along the route, limited protesters' right to political speech, ANSWER alleged.
The Interior Department moved to dismiss ANSWER's claim, arguing that they didn't have standing to challenge the regulation in its entirety because the group could only prove they were harmed by restrictions related to Freedom Plaza.
Friedman found that ANSWER had shown that it had an interest in how the regulations applied to all space along the parade route, not just Freedom Plaza. The fact that ANSWER's permit application to demonstrate at Freedom Plaza was revoked supported the group's broader, facial challenge to the regulations as a whole, he said.