Federal Judge Throws Out Cleveland’s GOP Convention Security Plan
By Byron Tau
June 23, 2016 1:37 p.m. ET
CLEVELAND—A federal judge on Thursday struck down the city of Cleveland’s rules limiting protests during next month’s Republican National Convention, finding the city’s strict security regulations violated the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin ruled the city’s establishment of a large zone around the July convention site within which protesters’ ability to demonstrate would be strictly limited contravened the Constitution’s guarantees of the freedom of speech and assembly.
“Under the First Amendment, I do find that the city hasn't sufficiently, narrowly drawn the regulations to serve government interests,” Judge Gwin told attorneys at the conclusion of the two-hour hearing.
He said he would follow with a formal ruling. Lawyers for the city indicated that they were considering an appeal.
With the start of the Republican convention just weeks away, security officials and Republican organizers are bracing for large protests against and in favor of the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Large groups of protesters have descended on Mr. Trump’s past rallies, prompting sometimes violent clashes between the candidate’s supporters and opponents.
The ruling sends the city back to the drawing board to craft a new security plan.
At the heart of the lawsuit is a 3.3-square-mile “event zone” officials had drawn around the Quicken Loans Arena, site of most convention activity. Another, much smaller, perimeter established by the Secret Service will only be accessible those credentialed to enter the convention.
Within the event zone, the city had banned all sound amplification systems except hand-held bullhorns, allowed only a single official speaking venue and restricted officially sanctioned parades to a single route.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Cleveland on behalf of three groups who charged that the city’s rules improperly restricted the freedoms of assembly and speech. The lawsuit also alleged that the city had unreasonably delayed or denied protest applications. The progressive group Organize Ohio, the group Citizens for Trump, and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless are the plaintiffs named in the suit.
In their defense, city officials noted that demonstrators will be free to protest anywhere within the event zone so long as they don’t impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic or set up speaker’s platforms or sound systems.
Cleveland officials said parade routes needed to be restricted to accommodate emergency vehicles in the event of a terrorist attack. A lawyer representing the city said sound systems were banned over concerns they could contain explosives.
Within the event zone, the city bans a wide range of common items, including umbrellas with metal tips, large backpacks, rope, glass bottles, sleeping bags and coolers. These bans aren’t affected by the ruling.
The city has prohibited weapons such as mace, swords, knives and even water guns from the event zone, but firearms will be allowed under a quirk in Ohio law. Guns won’t be allowed within the smaller secure zone around the arena that is protected by the Secret Service, however.
Many of the groups who have applied for protests permits remain in limbo. Timothy Selaty, who is attempting to organizing a Citizens for Trump rally, said that the city’s inaction on his demonstration permit had hindered his ability to publicize the rally, line up vendors and finalize his plans.
“They absolutely tied my hands and feet where I could not publicize it, I could not get it organized,” said Mr. Selaty.
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