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Judge Upholds Restrictions on Plans to Protest Bush Inauguration

A federal judge ruled today that police plans to impose checkpoints, space restrictions, and other obstacles to protesters mobilizing for George Bush's presidential inauguration do not violate demonstrators' constitutional rights. Protesters don't agree -- and challenges may break out on the streets during inaugural activities this Saturday.
Federal Judge Supports Restrictions on Demonstrators' Efforts to Protest Bush Inauguration

January 19, Washington DC: U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled today that police plans to impose checkpoints, space restrictions, and other obstacles to protesters mobilizing for George Bush's presidential inauguration do not violate demonstrators' constitutional rights.

The ruling came in response to a complaint filed on January 16 by the Partnership for Civil Justice and the National Lawyers Guild that challenged the constitutionality of security arrangements by federal and D.C police. Those security arrangements include the establishment for the first time of a vast network of checkpoints for access to the inaugural parade route that the Guild and the Partnership charged violates constitutional rights. In addition, attorneys argued that policing policy for the inauguration provides law enforcement with the power to target demonstrators and prevent their access to the inaugural parade route.

The 'checkpoint' system has drawn the particular ire of protesters. For the first time in history, law enforcement has established an 'Exclusion Perimeter' that prevents any access to the Inaugural Route except through a very limited number of checkpoints. But Kessler's ruling kept the checkpoint system in place, and supported police officers' total discretion to conduct bag or body searches or turn back individuals. Protesters fear these law enforcement powers could be used to single out people on the basis of personal appearance or political affiliation.

The plaintiffs also argued that law enforcement should not be allowed to relegate a legally permitted protest by the International Action Center to a tiny portion of Freedom Plaza occupied by a large fountain, and argued that a range of other federal and local regulatory provisions were unconstitutional. The IAC had complained that their legally permitted protest space in Freedom Plaza had been invaded by huge bleachers reserved for ticketed guests of the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

But Kessler ruled that it was reasonable to limit demonstrators at the IAC action to 5,600 square feet of protest space in Freedom Plaza - an area roughly bounded by eight car lengths per side. Kessler also ruled that three small sites 'on or near the avenue will provide demonstrators an opportunity to get their message out,' according to the Associated Press, and that police would not use security proposals to limit participation by demonstrators.

Kessler agreed with protesters that a DC law requiring individuals to get written permission from the police chief before making public speeches is unconstitutional, but noted that the law has not been enforced in years.

"The judge's ruling is very disappointing - but not surprising," said Patrick Chee of Chicago's 8th Day Center for Justice. Chee traveled to Washington on Thursday as a Chicago Independent Media Center volunteer to cover Chicago contingents planning to attend the inaugural protests. "More than 200 people are traveling by bus caravan from Chicago tonight for the protest, and hundreds of others are coming in by car, van and plane - where they'll join thousands of other demonstrators at these checkpoints. I don't expect that people will take unreasonable law enforcement restrictions on their constitutional rights likely - or lying down."
 
 

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