Major battle for grassroots free speech rights
What: Oral Argument in ANSWER Coalition, et al v. D.C.
When: Thursday, March 24 at 9:30 a.m.
Where: U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
333 Constitution Ave. NW
Courtroom 31 before Judges Rogers, Pillard and Sentelle
(Bring ID. We advise showing up 30-60 minutes early to allow time to get through security.)
The PCJF's free speech battle to overturn poster regulations used to target grassroots organizations in our nation’s capital is now in its ninth year. After years of litigation, the case resulted in 2012 in a landmark federal court ruling striking down the law as unconstitutional. The Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 58-page opinion ruling that the challenged law “fails First Amendment and Due Process scrutiny.”
The District of Columbia filed an appeal to try to overturn the Court’s ruling and the PCJF is now defending fundamental free speech rights in appellate litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Constitutional rights attorneys Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo will be arguing this First Amendment case in Court this Thursday, March 24, and we invite you to join us there.
This has been a hard fought battle over nine years and we have won at multiple stages. But the government, despite changing Attorney Generals over the years, has held firm in defending patently unconstitutional postering laws that illegally put grassroots organizations at risk of bankrupting fines for communicating with low-cost public posters. The D.C. government's conduct in the litigation has been sufficiently egregious to have had sanctions awarded against it.
These laws have been on the books for decades, replaced periodically with still-unconstitutional amendments. As a result, countless grassroots organizations have suffered or had their freedom of speech stifled for years on end in the nation’s capital.
No challenge to these outrageous laws had been made until the PCJF launched this litigation in 2007. We are grateful for the commitment of PCJF supporters and grassroots groups throughout the District of Columbia who have rallied in defense of this fight. It is the support over the long haul by persons such as yourself that distinguishes the PCJF and its supporters. We look forward to seeing those of you who can make it in the courtroom.
In litigation filed by the PCJF on behalf of the ANSWER Coalition and Muslim American Society Freedom, the court put an end to the District of Columbia’s illegal system that created a favored hierarchy of speech where grassroots and community groups that sought to give voice to their causes with political posters were hit with massive and potentially bankrupting fines, while politicians were allowed to flood the streets with campaign signs for months on end.
Most notably, the court found that when the government “opens up public property to political speech, it has a responsibility to be fair, even and precise in its regulations… When treading on First Amendment interests, it should strive to limit administrative discretion, not codify and endorse it.”
The case was also marked by litigation misconduct by the D.C. Office of the Attorney General which the PCJF successfully challenged in federal court, resulting in the Attorney General’s Office being sanctioned by the federal judge overseeing the case.
In an additional huge victory for grassroots organizing, the PCJF forced the District to rescind more than $70,000 in fines it had levied and prosecuted against the ANSWER Coalition, an anti-war and social justice organization.
The PCJF defended the Coalition against the District’s malicious and baseless prosecution of those fines for over five years in separate proceedings before the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. See more and read the legal documents here.