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Free speech victory over the Bush administration

First Amendment prevails over Bush’s attempts to privatize inaugural route

After a three-year long legal battle pitting free speech rights against the Bush Administration, we are happy to announce that a major victory has been achieved. With your support we intend to continue to fight in defense of the First Amendment. The stakes are high but this ruling shows that we can prevail.

Here’s the good news: The federal government’s efforts to bar anti-war protesters from the Presidential Inaugural parade route were declared unconstitutional in a landmark ruling issued by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

“This ruling is a huge victory for Free Speech rights and rejects the government’s effort to essentially privatize Pennsylvania Avenue, known as ‘America’s Main Street,’ so that corporate donors and Administration supporters would have nearly exclusive access while those expressing anti-war views are pushed to the margins or excluded altogether,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney with the Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJ.)

The Partnership for Civil Justice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition which staged large scale protests against the Iraq war during the January 20, 2005 Bush/Cheney inauguration ceremonies. “The National Park Service has been defeated in its efforts to transform democracy into a shallow stage-managed affair during the inauguration,” stated Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman has far-reaching implications for access to future inaugural ceremonies by those holding opposition views and for the public-at-large. Judge Friedman enjoined the National Park Service “from exempting itself and/or the Presidential Inaugural Committee” from constitutionally valid permitting regulations that protected free speech rights and provided access to Pennsylvania Avenue during the quadrennial inaugural ceremonies.

“The National Park Service, with its jurisdiction over critical public spaces, has acted as a political tool of the Administration. This victory is a vindication of the people over the Bush Administration and over those officials who carry water for whatever major party holds power. They may not continue to act in utter disregard for the fundamental First Amendment rights of the people,” stated Carl Messineo of the PCJ.

“We continued with this litigation following the inauguration because it is vital that people in the future be able to fully exercise their cherished rights to express an opinion and redress grievances without the government making access to public lands conditioned on the political content of speech,” stated Mr. Messineo.

PCJ established that the National Park Service (NPS) violated its own regulations in order to give preferential treatment to the government-approved group, the private Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), and that it engaged in illegal discrimination by excluding those whose views do not conform to the administration. The NPS takes most of the land along Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade and provides it to the PIC (a private entity created every four years to serve as the receptacle for wealthy and corporate donors to pour in tens of millions of unregulated dollars as the administration starts its term). PCJ previously established that the PIC hand-picks who may be allowed to sit in bleachers or stand along the sidewalks or in the federal parkland along Pennsylvania Ave. during what should be the open and public inaugural parade.

The 38-page Opinion can be read below, and the Order can be read below.