Home » Blog » Criminal Defense » Before barring demonstrations, police must understand demonstration permit caselaw

Before barring demonstrations, police must understand demonstration permit caselaw

Call Us: 703-383-1100

In the United States, people are presumed to be permitted to demonstrate in public fora, including, but not limited to, parks, the side of streets, and, when a permit is obtained, marches. Demonstration permits generally cannot be a prerequisite for demonstrations absent a statute or regulations requiring permits, with their issuance eliminating unbridled discretion in the hands of the people reviewing the demonstration permit applications. Thomas . Chicago Park Dist., 534 U.S. 316 (2002). 

When I was still working at a corporate law firm in 1991, I learned the unpleasant way about permitting law, when my friend and I were threatened with arrest if we continued, permitless, to hold our antiwar signs outside the Capitol while the Senate debated whether to authorize George Bush I to go to war in Iraq. Then we went to obtain a permit, and got shunted over to a remote, barely-visible area near a parking lot. So Bush, I, got his way — obtaining auhotrization to go to war in the Gulf, but we sere denied a reasonable permit.

Regardless of one’s position on the eternal abortion debate, on First Amendment grounds I congratulate the pro-life demonstrators who recently reached a $385,000 settlement after police denied their right to demonstrate on the roadside in Harford County, Maryland, without a permit, and then arrested and  strip searched some of them. What did the police expect to find in conducting a strip search, which ordinarily includes a visible and/or digital check of one’s anus (yuck! and completely invasive)? More picket signs?

Here is more about the settlement. Here is more background, and some video footage from before the arrests.