ACLU of Illinois Challenges Official Ban on Demonstrations and Gatherings at Chicago's Federal Plaza

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
December 3, 2001 12:00 am

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CHICAGO–Calling for federal officials to respect the rights of all persons to engage in meaningful public debate in these critical times, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today asked a federal judge to lift the indefinite closure of Chicago’s federal plaza.

“The federal government bears a critical responsibility for protecting the ability of citizens with a host of viewpoints to gather and express their views on vital issues of these times,” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois. “But instead of acting to ensure that all voices are heard on the important issues of this time, federal officials have avoided this obligation, citing vague, nonspecific security concerns.”

The ACLU request was submitted to the federal district court in Chicago today in an amended complaint. The prior complaint was filed to challenge overly restrictive leaflet policies enforced on the plaza by the General Services Administration, the agency of the federal government responsible for the facility. That complaint, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. General Services Administration, was filed in April of 2001.

The General Services Administration closed the federal plaza to any sort of demonstration following the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon on September 11. Officials for the federal government previously had cited unspecific security concerns in stating they will not issue any permits to use the federal plaza for the duration of the 2001 calendar year. These officials also refused to commit to a time when permits again will be issued for activities on the plaza.

The federal plaza, located near the two central federal buildings in downtown Chicago, long has been considered a traditional gathering place for rallies, demonstrations, open-air markets and serves as a walkway for members of the general public. Governmental policies from the death penalty to abortion to previous military actions have been subject matter for gatherings on the federal plaza.

“The Chicago Police Department proved itself capable of handling security arrangements for a demonstration about policy matters on the federal plaza even after September 11,” Grossman noted. “This experience confirms that appropriate security arrangements are possible to insure the safety of demonstrators, federal employees and all persons in the general area.”

“Such security arrangements may entail a commitment of more funding for this service,” Grossman added. “That should not be a problem. Government has an affirmative obligation to commit adequate resources to protect the First Amendment rights of all persons in the community.”

The complaint amended today is pending before Federal District Court Judge Ruben Castillo. Attorneys William Gibbons, Adam S. Ryan, Israel Sasha Mayergoyz and A. Colin Wexler from the Chicago office of the law firm Latham and Watkins are co-counsels to the ACLU of Illinois in this matter.

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