ACLU Says Agreement in Lawsuit Protects Free Speech Rights in Chicago's "Public Square"

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
October 8, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU Says Agreement in Lawsuit Protects Free Speech Rights in Chicago’s “Public Square”


CHICAGO–A central venue historically used for demonstrations, prayer vigils and the distribution of leaflets is more accessible to a diverse range of voices because of an agreement presented in federal court today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois announced.

“This settlement insures equal opportunity and open access for all voices to be heard in Chicago’s most prominent public forum,” said Adam Schwartz, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Illinois.

Lawyers for the ACLU of Illinois and city officials asked a federal judge to approve the settlement in a lawsuit challenging policies covering the issuance of permits for the use of Chicago’s federal plaza, located downtown adjacent to the Kluczynski Federal Building.

Under the terms of the settlement presented to U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, the General Services Administration (the agency responsible for the management of federal property, including Chicago’s federal buildings) may not deny a permit to use the plaza solely because another group already holds a permit to use the plaza at that time. The agreement specifically protects the rights of counter-demonstrators, who may obtain a permit to use the plaza to express views in opposition to a group that already holds a permit to use the plaza.

The settlement concludes proceedings in a lawsuit filed in May 2001, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. United States General Services Administration, in which the ACLU challenged a policy of issuing only one permit at a time to use the plaza, and then challenged a practice of arbitrarily denying multiple permits to use the plaza.

The lawsuit arose in the fall of 2000 when GSA officials denied a permit to the ACLU to distribute the organization’s “Bust Cards,” palm-sized pamphlets with suggestions for persons who are stopped by the police, in conjunction with a rally hosted by the October 22nd Coalition, a group formed to express citizen concern about issues of police brutality and excessive force.

“In a time with so many critical public policy issues under debate, it is essential that the federal government allow multiple individuals and organizations – including counter-demonstrators – to express their viewpoint on the plaza at the same time,” said William Gibbons, a partner in the Chicago law firm of Latham and Watkins and cooperating counsel in the case assisting the ACLU of Illinois.

Gibbons, Adam S. Ryan, Israel Sasha Mayergoyz and A. Colin Wexler from the Chicago office of Latham and Watkins acted as co-counsel with the ACLU in this matter.

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