State ACLU warns Hennepin County it may sue over new restrictions on protesters

OccupyMN> State ACLU warns Hennepin County it may sue over new restrictions on protesters

Posted by: Randy Furst under People and neighborhoodsPolitics and governmentPublic safety   Star Tribune
Updated: November 3, 2011 – 4:38 PM

Note:  for a copy of the letter, see The Uptake article below.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota urged Hennepin County Administrator Richard Johnson on Thursday to rescind new restrictions imposed on a group of anti-Wall Street protesters who have been staging a round-the-clock occupation of the Hennepin County Government Center plaza.

A county spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the request was rejected.

The county announced new rules on Wednesday for the protesters who began sleeping on the plaza and surrounding grounds on Oct. 7. The new rules prohibit protesters from sleeping overnight on the plaza with the first prediction of snowfall or temperatures below 25 degrees. The county is also requiring the protesters to consolidate their possessions, prohibit unattended items on the plaza, and bars the placement of signs on the plaza.

Charles Samuelson, the state ACLU’s executive director, told me today, “It is possible we may file suit over this.” The ACLU believes the restrictions violate the protesters’ First Amendment rights.
Samuelson said his office has met with several OccupyMN activists and he said the protest group will be discussing whether the state ACLU should represent them at its general assembly meeting that it will hold tonight.

He said the state ACLU has contacted a number of major law firms and two are interested in representing OccupyMN “if it gets that far.” The firms are checking to see if they have conflicts of interest.

If the state ACLU gets the go-ahead from the protesters, and it is able to a secure lawyers to represent them, he said the ACLU would try to negotiate with the county. If no resolution is reached, he said, “we will attempt to get a temporary restraining order.” If there is a lawsuit, it is still about a week away, he said.

Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the state ACLU, said in a letter to Richard Johnson, the county’s administrator,  that the First Amendment protects all forms of expression against governmental interference and restraint.

“These new rules appear to be ad-hoc that have not been previously applied and were adopted specifically in response to Occupy MN protest,” the ACLU said in a press statement.

Johnson told me today that he had received the letter. “We referred it to the county attorney and we are evaluating it,” he said. He declined to discuss the concerns raised by the ACLU.

Asked if his office had anticipated a lawsuit over its new rules for the protesters, Johnson said, “We hadn’t talked about it, but I am not surprised.”

At 7 a.m. Friday, as the plaza sprinklers are shut down for the winter, protesters are being required by the county to move their property to one side of the plaza. Johnson said the county’s facilities staff had been talking to the protesters who “have started to move stuff. We don’t want them to get wet.” He also said the protesters are also moving some of the signs. “We are getting some cooperation,” Johnson said.

ACLU Asks Hennepin County to Rescind Restrictions on Occupy MN

November 3, 2011 by Jacob Wheeler Minnesota  The Uptake

Cold weather shouldn’t affect First Amendment rights. That’s essentially what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota told Hennepin County in a letter today asking the County to rescind the new restrictions placed on OccupyMN protests who are currently in the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza. The ACLU says the restrictions appear to be “ad-hoc” and created specifically in response to the OccupyMN protest.

“We are troubled by the new restrictions that Hennepin County is imposing,” said Charles Samuelson, “Hennepin County is placing unfair restrictions on OccupyMN in an effort to silence their voice.”

The new restrictions that the County unveiled in a memo yesterday include: prohibiting the placement and affixation of signs; barring protestors from sleeping overnight on the plaza with the first prediction of snowfall or temperatures below 25 degrees; consolidating their possessions; and prohibiting unattended items on the plaza, The ACLU of Minnesota believes that these new restrictions violate the First Amendment.

View the ACLU’s letter here: ACLU-HennepinCountyLetter

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