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Ruling: Protesters can't get closer to GOP convention site

By The Associated Press
07.17.08

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A federal judge in Minneapolis sided with St. Paul city and police leaders yesterday in rejecting a protest group’s attempt to get closer in time and space to the upcoming Republican National Convention.

Judge Joan Ericksen said the government officials have security reasons to justify the restrictions on the permit for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War.

The group plans to march in St. Paul on Sept. 1, the first day of the convention. Its members wanted thousands of marchers to get closer to the Xcel Energy Center and be able to conduct the parade from the Capitol later in the day, when the convention will be in session and delegates will see them.

A city permit keeps marchers at least 84 feet away from the arena’s doors and orders them to clear the streets around the arena by midafternoon. The coalition is expecting 30,000 to 50,000 people to participate.

Ericksen said the restrictions are content-neutral and narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest. She said they don’t squelch free speech.

“The Coalition’s all-day rally, less than two miles from the convention site, will undoubtedly be the subject of extensive media coverage,” Ericksen wrote. “On this record, the permit leaves open ample alternatives for the Coalition to communicate its message.”

She added that coalition members have “no constitutional right to physical access to the delegates.”

Teresa Nelson, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said the coalition hadn’t settled on a next step, including whether to appeal the decision. She said the ruling “does weaken the First Amendment” and she worried that it would suppress turnout for the march.

“People might not want to get on a bus from L.A. to march to an empty building,” Nelson said.

St. Paul officials praised the ruling. Mayor Chris Coleman said the city was affording “unprecedented access” for protesters.

Assistant Police Chief Matt Bostrom said the ruling balances the needs of all parties.

“People who wish to march will be able to get close to the arena, people who are attending the convention will have safe access to the building, and downtown Saint Paul will remain open for business,” Bostrom said in a written statement.


Related

Federal court OKs march past Democratic convention site (news)
But same judge rejects separate challenge to free-speech zone for upcoming gathering, despite calling fenced-in area 'an affront to free expression.' 07.23.04

Ruling: NYC can't use secret arguments in RNC protest case (news)
City had sought to submit sealed affidavit explaining why documents on police surveillance of demonstrators before 2004 GOP convention should be kept confidential. 01.23.08

Police adopt policy for probing groups that exercise speech (news)
St. Paul, Minn., Police Department spokesman says change isn’t linked to upcoming GOP convention; others question timing. 02.26.08

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