ACLU sues Mpls, says All-Star Game "Clean Zone" is more restrictive than 2008 RNC
"It's mind boggling," ACLU director Samuelson says. "We would like the city to obey the constitution, that's all."
:::: UPDATE :::: Mpls backtracks on "Clean Zone"; ACLU says lawsuit is in limbo
The ACLU-MN is suing the city of Minneapolis, Mayor Betsy Hodges, and Police Chief Janeé Harteau for granting Major League Baseball's request to create a potentially speech-limiting "Clean Zone" around Target Field during a two-week stretch surrounding this summer's All-Star Game.
The lawsuit's core argument is that Minneapolis officials have no grounds for essentially granting the MLB veto power over things such as banners, signs, block events, or parades. But an ordinance approved by the City Council in February does just that for a huge swath of the city (basically all of downtown and some surrounding areas) over an unreasonably lengthy period of time.
"All we're saying is you can't give away your permit process to a for-profit company," ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson tells us. "It belongs in the hands of elected officials and they can't give it away. This is a quintessential government role and the First Amendment doesn't give private companies the power to decide who can assemble, where they can assemble, and what they can say."
"That's not an option that's on the table, and for them to do it blindly and expect everyone is going to roll over is amazing," he continues.
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of James McGuire and Robert Kolstad, members of the One Day in July Street Festival Committee who plan to hold a public event a few days after the All-Star Game in commemoration of the 1934 Teamsters strike in which two strikers were killed by Minneapolis police.
Though the street festival will require at least three permits -- one for a block event, another for amplified sound, and a third for short-term food -- the lawsuit says McGuire and Kolstad haven't applied for them because they "do not wish to subject their speech and expressive activities to Major League Baseball's review and approval."
In an ACLU statement, McGuire says, "It's an insult to me, and to all Americans, that before exercising my First Amendment right to speak and assemble I must first get permission from a private company."
"It's ironic that in trying to commemorate a horrific violation of our rights in the past, we are now facing further violations," he continues.
Samuelson says the ACLU's concerns are broader than the One Day in July festival, however.
"This lawsuit is not just about the two guys who are named plaintiffs. It's about anybody who might want to [assemble downtown] and we don't know who they are," Samuelson says. "This is serious as a heart attack, and I believe [city officials] know in their heart of hearts that it's unconstitutional, and they don't care. We want them to never do it again."
During a conversation with us earlier this spring, Minneapolis City Council Member John Quincy said the fuss over the Clean Zone is much ado about nothing.
"It's something we've done before for all the other major events we've had in town, like the previous Super Bowl and the NCAA Tournament, and it's typically standard operating procedure for every community that puts together a major bid for a major event," Quincy said.
But Samuelson disagrees.
(For more, click to page two.)
"It's not unheard of for a very, very narrowly tailored -- not nearly as broad geographically and one day instead of 15 or 20," Samuelson says. "But this is even more aggressive than the Clean Zone around the GOP convention [in St. Paul in 2008]. One, the area is way broader, and two, the list of things the MLB is concerned about -- banners and things like that -- is much broader."
The lawsuit argues the Clean Zone violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and eventual permanent injunction barring the city from enforcing it.
"We want a bright line from a federal court," Samuelson says. "We want bright lines everywhere in the country."
Tom Hamlin, one of the attorneys working with the ACLU on the case, says in a news release that the lawsuit "is not aimed at shutting down the All-Star baseball game."
"All we are asking is that the resolution establishing the Clean Zone is struck down by the court, because it violates our client's constitutional rights," he continues.
Along the same lines, Samuelson says, "It's not like the ACLU is arguing the police should run away or not be allowed to be there. There are going to be tons of police there anyway."
To read the lawsuit for yourself, click to page three.
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