ACLU, Senate majority leader raise concerns over Capitol permit enforcement
Post by Christie Taylor on 9/4/2012 12:24pm
Objections are arising to new Capitol Police Chief David Erwin’s stated intention to enforce permitting requirements for Capitol protests. The 1979 policy, only just put into writing in December, requires groups of four or more to request permits 72 hours in advance of an event or protest.
Erwin said last week that he intended to crack down on protesters in the name of “normalcy and safety,” including requiring the ongoing noontime gatherings of the Solidarity Singers to get a permit. Previous Chief Charles Tubbs had a more lenient approach, requiring them to check in with police before they started singing each day.
Following the announcement, the ranks of Solidarity Sing-Along participants swelled to more than 50 last Tuesday, about the number that regularly turned out at the height of the protests.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller sent Erwin a letter Tuesday requesting that he meet with legislative leaders and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abramson before changing enforcement practices. “Although you are unde the control of Governor Walker and DOA, the Legislature as well as the Supreme Court are co-equal branches of government occupying the capitol,” Miller said. “We share responsibility for safety and assuring the public’s constitutional right to access are implemented.”
In response, Erwin wrote Thursday that enforcing the permit rules was intended to ensure all groups have equal access to the Capitol space: he noted that the DOA has received hundreds of requests for permits already this year, for a variety of purposes, and that the lunch hour was a popular time to request.
He also cited harassment by regular protesters, both of legislators and members of the press, at least one incident of which had prompted legal action. “The Capitol is a place to freely express our opinion and petition the government, but it is also a place of business,” he said in the letter.
However, the ACLU of Wisconsin announced in a blog post Friday that the rules were not reasonable, particularly if applied to the Solidarity Sing-Along. The event occurs during the state lunch hour between noon and 1 p.m., meaning it’s not disrupting
While the rules might be decades old, Harbaugh said in her experience police have asked only for voluntary compliance in the past, requiring permits only for events that require extra staffing.
“There has typically been reasonable accommodation for protests large and small, planned or spontaneous,” she said. Furthermore, determining which group of four is a family visiting the Capitol, and which is a protest, will require Capitol police to consider the content of a group’s speech--the exact consideration barred by the U.S. Constitution, which does otherwise allow for “reasonable time, place, and manner” restrictions.
“By requiring permits for “rallies” of four or more people, the DOA and Capitol Police must look at the content of the event to determine whether or not a group in the Capitol is a “rally” promoting a cause versus a gathering of four people who want to talk about where to get lunch,” the group said.
Of the safety concerns Erwin raised in his letter, the ACLU said it was the responsibility of the police to enforce safety, and that alleged harassment by a few individuals could and should be addressed without cracking down on peaceful speech.
“If criminal harassment or intimidation is occurring against Capitol workers or singers alike, it is the responsibility of police to address it, not crackdown on peaceful protest,” the ACLU said.
Full disclosure: Stacy Harbough sits on the Dane101 board of directors.
Christie Taylor (@ctaylsaurus) covers science, environment, and, depending on the season, state politics for dane101. She verbs a lot of nouns, including rollerskates, radio, and Kurt Vonnegut. A Madison native, she's not sure she'll ever quite manage to leave Wisconsin, and that's just fine by her. Contact her at email@example.com.