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Protesters challenge restrictions at GOP convention

By The Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — People planning to protest during the Republican National Convention are suing in state court in an attempt to overturn restrictions on where they can assemble.

Two newly filed lawsuits in Ramsey County District Court claim that St. Paul city and police officials are restricting free-speech rights by confining demonstrators to a designated assembly area. The lawsuits cover the same ground, with one calling the public viewing area near the Xcel Energy Center "inadequate and unacceptably small."

Among the people behind the lawsuits is Coleen Rowley, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in 2006 who gained attention as an FBI agent-turned-whistleblower after the 9/11 attacks. Also involved are members of a group called Impeach for Peace, the Twin Cities Peace Campaign and the Welfare Rights Committee.

Previous legal challenges to GOP convention-related restrictions have been turned back in federal court.

"These two represent an attempt by the plaintiffs to get another bite at the apple in state court," said John Choi, a St. Paul city attorney.

The city has afforded "unprecedented access and accommodations for the protesters," he said, adding that the restrictions were carefully crafted to balance public safety and free speech.

City leaders announced last month that they would mark off at least 180,000 square feet of space diagonally across from the arena, where the Sept. 1-4 convention will be held. They're providing a stage and microphone. Applications for stage time, which is to be awarded through a lottery, were due Aug. 11.

Bruce Nestor, a lawyer representing some of the protesters, said his clients object to the arrangement because "the city gets to manage free speech in the name of facilitating free speech."

"Frankly, they can talk about why they like furry animals," Nestor said. "One person gets as much time as 1,000 people."

Plaintiffs in the cases want a temporary injunction forcing the city to disclose more details about the security perimeter around the arena and they want to loosen other restrictions. No court date has been set.


Ruling: Protesters can't get closer to GOP convention site (news)
Federal judge says St. Paul, Minn., officials have security reasons to justify restrictions on permit for group that plans to march on first day of gathering. 07.17.08

GOP convention attracting array of demonstrators (news)
Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to use streets outside Xcel Center as national podium, transforming downtown St. Paul, Minn., into a literal marketplace of ideas. 08.05.08

Court won't order changes to DNC security plan (news)
Federal judge concludes parade routes, demonstration zone established by Denver officials don't infringe on protesters' free-speech rights. 08.07.08

Party conventions will bring another test for free speech (commentary)
By Gene Policinski As in 2004, this year's big political gatherings are likely to attract disputes over demonstrations, public access and more. 06.01.08

Let’s hope convention cities respect right to protest (commentary)
By Gene Policinski To shut down demonstrations, police and public officials must have more supportable reasons than vague concerns over order, safety or image. 08.24.08

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