The main source of vitriol toward the protesters that disrupted shopping at Mall of America on Saturday stems from their violation of the mall's property rights. Property rights ranks right up there with abortion, gun control, and immigration among the issues most likely to get conservatives fired up.
When the Mall of America was built, taxpayers paid $186 million of its $700 million cost. Now with another $250 million in public money heading its way as part of a planned $1.5 billion expansion, many of those protesters think the mall shouldn't be considered private, forcing it to allow public demonstrations.
What they don't realize is that argument was struck down by the Minnesota Supreme Court nearly 20 years ago.
In 1996 the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the free speech protection written in the state constitution "does not apply to a privately owned shopping center such as the Mall of America, although developed in part with public financing" in State v. Wicklund.
Freeman Wicklund was part of a group of about 10 people who were arrested and charged with trespassing after they protested the sale of fur products outside of Macy's. Before the Supreme Court ruling, lower courts originally sided with Wicklund, agreeing the mall was a public forum.
"...Given the substantial public subsidy involved in its construction, the Mall of America is not "private" in any meaningful sense, the Mall was "born of a union with government," and the Mall can impose only reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on the exercise of free speech," the trial court wrote.
Laws allowing protests at malls vary from state to state across the country. Most famously, malls in California were required to allow public demonstrations after the landmark Pruneyard v. Robins decision in 1980. California's state constitution has a slightly different wording when it comes to articulating free speech rights, which allows for a more liberal interpretation of those rights.
Even with those protections in place, California malls are struggling to adhere to the law to this day.
Now, obviously, anyone is free disagree with the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court system makes terrible decisions all the time, and protesters can choose to be civilly disobedient and break the law anyway, as they did on Saturday.
But it's important to understand why the Mall of America has the right to blast Orwellian messages over the loudspeakers and threaten to arrest peaceful demonstrators. This debate has already been decided -- in the legal arena anyway -- and no amount of yelling is going to change that.
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