Maine Civil Liberties Union Applauds Federal Court Decision Striking Down Portions of Unconstitutional Parade Ordinance

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
December 14, 2007 12:00 am

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PORTLAND – Today the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that advance notice and meeting requirements associated with the city of Augusta’s parade ordinance are unconstitutional. The decision upholds an earlier decision by the district court in Bangor to strike down Augusta’s restrictions on free speech because they improperly limited the rights of citizens to march and protest in the state’s capital.

“All our freedoms as Americans depend on the right to free speech being available to every one of us,” said David Webbert, Maine Civil Liberties Union cooperating counsel from Johnson & Webbert, LLP. “As the founders understood in enacting the First Amendment, our ability to make wise public policy decisions, such as going to war, will be destroyed if we only hear from the wealthy and well connected.”

Webbert argued the case on behalf of two Maine activists, Timothy Sullivan and Larry Dansinger, who were prevented from organizing protest marches in Augusta because of the enormous costs imposed by the city.

The MCLU challenged Augusta’s parade ordinance in March 2004, and the district court issued a favorable decision on liability against the city in December 2005. The First Circuit affirmed parts of that decision today. Specifically, the First Circuit found that the city of Augusta charged too large a fee, making an illegal profit off of war protestors.

“It is a violation of the First Amendment to have charged Sullivan more than the actual administrative expenses of the license, as set forth in the ordinance,” wrote senior circuit judge Levin H. Campbell for the majority in the opinion.

Campbell also challenged the 30 day notice requirement for parades, writing, “…applicants’ First Amendment rights have countervailing strength, and these require the City in time sensitive situations to accommodate proposed parades and marches much more quickly than within thirty days.”

“The First Amendment isn’t just for popular speakers and conventional wisdom,” said MCLU Legal Director Zachary Heiden. “Our founders designed the Bill of Rights specifically for the protection of minority opinions and marginalized voices.”

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