PCJF Fights Trump's Plan to Crush Protest in the Nation's Capital

  • Background

    At the same time that the Trump administration and other proponents of bigotry, repression and environmental devastation have ratcheted up their verbal attacks against the protests they are facing, they are also taking concrete actions to match their rhetoric and shut down free speech actions. The PCJF is taking action in rapid response to this initiative. We won't allow the Trump administration to repress and silence the voices of the people who are speaking out in opposition and protest.

    After the initiation of a successful campaign that led to over 90,000 comments being submitted to the National Park Service, the PCJF is preparing to file litigation to challenge the new anti-protest rules proposed by the Trump Administration and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke as soon as they are formally announced to take effect.

    New proposed rules would impose steep fees and costs on demonstrations in Washington, D.C; effectively ban protests on the iconic White House sidewalk; force protesters to pay the costs of barricades erected at police discretion, park officials wages and overtime, and harm to grass from standing on it; create waiting periods removing any obligation of the government to promptly process or approve permits; restrict and suppress spontaneous demonstrations that respond to breaking events; create hair-triggers allowing police to end protests for the most minor of issues; restrict sound and staging; ban long term vigils or protest presences; make protesters pay for expensive "turf covers," among many other radical restrictions of free speech rights.

    These changes will affect all parkland under the National Park Service (NPS) in the nation's capital including the National Mall, Lafayette Park, the White House Sidewalk, Lincoln Memorial, the Ellipse, National Monument grounds, Freedom Plaza and the sidewalks and parkland along Pennsylvania Avenue - including the sidewalk in front of the Trump Hotel. 

    This is a dangerous anti-democratic proposal. If allowed to take effect, this will mark the end of free speech as we know it in Washington, D.C., and will be a dystopian model that spreads across the county.

    When the rules were announced, the PCJF mounted a broad based fight-back campaign, undertaking a thorough legal analysis to break down the massive enactment, making it available to other groups so they could spread the word to their constituencies, and working with partner organizations to assist with submission of their detailed comments into the administrative record as well as submitting the formal substantive comment on behalf of 36 civil rights, civil liberties, environmental, labor, anti-war, and social justice organizations.

    In doing the line-by-line analysis we discovered and exposed that the NPS had hidden in the regulatory details the planned closure of the iconic White House sidewalk to future protests. We sounded a clarion call to make others aware.

    We brought the issue out to the public with an OpEd in the Washington Post, "The Trump Administration Wants to Tax Protests. What Happened to Free Speech?" A week later, the Washington Post editorial board issued its own editorial declaring a "resounding no" to the changes.

    The work is now underway for the next critical phases of this fight: An ongoing public campaign to counter the Trump's narrative that maligns protest as the work of a mob. And a carefully-crafted and thorough legal challenge to enjoin the regulations that is ready to meet the Trump administration head-on as soon as it announces final rules are to take effect.

    If these new restrictions and burdens on free speech are allowed here in Washington, D.C., they will become a model that will stifle voices of every progressive movement for social, economic and environmental change across the nation. Over the past two decades the PCJF has successfully fought and won landmark constitutional rights impact litigation defending and expanding the exercise of fundamental rights to free speech, protest and assembly. Our litigation against the National Park Service included obtaining a federal court injunction against their unconstitutional handling of the very permit system at issue now. We are proud to stand on the front lines of this fight and we won't back down.

  • 12 Ways Trump's New Rules Will Crush Free Speech in D.C.

    As soon as they were released, the PCJF analyzed the almost 100 page proposal from the NPS, highlighting twelve major threatened losses to free speech rights, and published our analysis of the regulations to provide affected groups and organizations a summary of key regulatory proposals. The Washington Post published an OpEd by PCJF's Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo alerting the public to the Trump administration's outrageous plan to tax demonstrations and its unannounced closure of the iconic White House sidewalk to protests which was hidden in the dense regulatory enactment. 

    1. Pay to Protest - - Part I. NPS to charge steep costs and fees on any demonstration activity. [?]
    2. Pay to Protest, part 2 - - NPS to deconstruct free speech activities and charge fees and costs on "special event elements" (i.e., music performances, exhibits) within a demonstration. Removal of the distinct protections and processing of demonstrations in order to treat them in part like corporate sponsored and commercial special events. This is a back-door way to assess prohibitive costs on protests. [?]
    3. Permits in Limbo and Suppression of Spontaneous Demonstrations - - Removal of the "24 Hour Deemed Granted Rule" that mandates swift action on applications and elimination of any deadline whatsoever for NPS to finally approve a permit application. Spontaneous demonstrations responding to breaking events can be stifled. [?]
    4. Closure of the iconic White House sidewalks to demonstration assemblies (leaving a five foot sliver for a pedestrian walkway) [?]
    5. Closure of other public spaces on the South side of White House [?]
    6. New Hair-Trigger to Shut Down Protests - - Allowing police to end a protest for any violation of a permit, no matter how inconsequential, by anyone (even a counter-protester) [?]
    7. Protecting Grass Over Free Speech - - Codifies the Turf Management Plan with its prohibitively expensive requirements, including forced rental of mega-expensive plastic “Turf Covers” so protester’s feet don’t touch the grass [?]
    8. Ends Long Term Vigils and Protest Presences - - by setting a maximum period of 30 days, or less, for a protest (the current maximum is four months) [?]
    9. Expands the strictest restrictions on signs and banner size and material [?]
    10. Prohibits structures (e.g., stage, fixed sound) within the drop line of trees in Lafayette Park or the Ellipse - - but Lafayette Park is filled with trees [?]
    11. Prohibits structures (i.e., stage and sound setup or literature tables) without a permit, including in parks for which no permit is needed to have a demonstration [How can protesters use a no-permit-needed park for an assembly without stage or sound to reach the protest?] [?]
    12. NPS also seeks comment on whether to decrease or increase the number of people, and parks, in which protest is allowed without any permit at all (i.e., Franklin Square, McPherson Park, potentially Dupont Circle, and more). Apparently, NPS thinks even fewer no-permit-needed spaces are a possibility. [?]
  • Press Coverage

    Washington Post: A victory for free speech on the Mall

    Washington Post editorial "A victory for free speech on the Mall" calls the total withdrawal of proposed anti-protest regulations: "a full retreat by the Trump administration and, more important, a victory for the First Amendment." "Their plan to suppress protest,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, “was met with the very force it was trying to suppress."

    FAIR's Counterspin Radio interviews Mara Verheyden-Hilliard about protest suppression

    The White House is now—via the National Park Service—seeking to squelch public protest in Washington, DC, by, yes, charging for it.

    Washington Post: A National Park Service move that’s completely un-American and unconstitutional

    Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak writes about the grave implications of the newly proposed regulations

    Courthouse News Service: Trump Planning Tough New Rules for Protests Near White House

    Courthouse News Service: Trump Planning Tough New Rules for Protests Near White House. “Nearly all are registering outrage and opposition to this radical rollback of free speech rights. We view this as a full scale attack on constitutional rights, that’s why we’ve launched a campaign to defend them.” — Carl Messineo, PCJF Legal Director

    The Hill: Trump administration proposes tough rules on protests

    The Hill: Trump administration proposes tough rules on protests. “There’s never been such a large effort at rewriting these regulations. I don’t think there can be any question that these revisions will have the intent and certainly the effect of stifling the ability of the public to protest.” — Mara Verheyden-Hilliard

    WJLA (DC): New restrictions proposed for protests near the White House and National Mall

    WJLA (DC): New restrictions proposed for protests near the White House and National Mall “If you think about the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, if these rules had been in place then, the government would have been able to assess massive costs on the organizers and stopped them from being able to have that important moment. All you have to do is think about what our society would be like if that speech had been stifled.” — Mara Verheyden-Hilliard

    Will the Next Women’s March Be Taxed?

    The American Prospect asks: Will the Next Women’s March Be Taxed?