Significant court ruling in free speech postering case

Dear supporter,

Four years ago, in the summer of 2007, the ANSWER Coalition was organizing for a national demonstration on Sept. 15, 2007, to show mass opposition Bush’s decision to “surge” 30,000 more troops into Iraq.

The occupation of Iraq had stimulated a huge armed resistance movement in Iraq and the people of the United States had turned completely against Bush’s policy and wanted the war to end rather than expand.

The government engaged in unprecedented actions to block that mobilization.

We were hit with over $50,000 in fines for posters that announced the Sept. 15 demonstration. No other organization had ever been targeted like that for posters.

People rallied to our defense, and tens of thousands of letters were sent by people to the D.C. government demanding an end to this unconstitutional effort.

When we held a press conference in Lafayette Park right in front of the White House to oppose the fines, the speakers and the assembled media were dispersed by police on horseback. Over 100,000 people viewed this episode on a YouTube video that went viral.

Instead of halting the mobilization, the government’s repressive tactics stimulated more people to organize. One hundred thousand people came out for a dramatic action on Sept. 15, and 200 were arrested when they attempted to deliver a letter from anti-war veterans to Congress.

As they have in the past, attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund came into the fray in August 2007 and filed another constitutional rights lawsuit, this time challenging D.C.’s unconstitutional permitting regulations. The plaintiffs were the ANSWER Coalition and Muslim American Society Freedom.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has carried this hard-fought litigation for the last four years. They did this work entirely pro bono. They have not received any payment for this work. The entire progressive movement continues to benefit from their self-sacrificing efforts and their well recognized legal expertise.

Last week, a U.S. District Court issued a significant ruling in the case that rejected the government’s effort to dismiss the case. Again, the outcome here has far-reaching implications for Free Speech Rights in the nation’s capital.

Please read and share with your friends on Facebook and elsewhere the email below from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund about this important ruling.

I want to also urge you to make a tax-deductible donation to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that helps sustain their all important and expanding work in defense of civil rights and civil liberties.

Brian Becker

Brian Becker
ANSWER Coalition, national coordinator

Federal Court Ruling on Constitutional Challenge
to Postering Regulations in Washington, D.C.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund's four-year-long battle to overturn the District of Columbia's unconstitutional postering regulations has resulted in a significant ruling today for free speech. "District regulations governing how long signs can remain affixed to city lampposts are unconstitutional and need to be rewritten, a federal judge signaled in a court opinion Thursday," wrote the Washington Post in an article about today's ruling.

The lawsuit stems from an unprecedented campaign of illegal and unconstitutional fines levied against the ANSWER Coalition for anti-war posters, which now total over $70,000. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) brought a constitutional rights challenge on behalf of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and the MASF (Muslim American Society Freedom) to strike down the regulations which favor politicians' campaign posters and penalize grassroots political speech.

"The reality is that government officials who run for office and make the rules in D.C. give special treatment to their political speech, while fining grassroots speech," stated Carl Messineo, Legal Director of the PCJF.

"The District has employed an illegal system that creates a hierarchy of speech, favoring the speech of politicians and punishing grassroots outreach," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF. "It's time for that system to end, and it will."

The Court's Ruling

Rejecting the District's efforts to have the case dismissed, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth instead wrote in his opinion that District officials "can revise the regulations to include a single, across-the-board durational restriction that applies equally to all viewpoints and subject matters. This would address the problem of litter, remove the suspicion that politicians are carving out exceptions to benefit their own campaigns, and uphold the tradition of vibrant free expression in the national's capital."

The case will now go forward with the plaintiffs efforts to strike down the unconstitutional postering regulations, and at the same time the ANSWER Coalition continues to battle the $70,000 in outrageous and improper fines it has been assessed in another court proceeding. The attorneys at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund are providing representation in both cases.

The PCJF is litigating and providing legal support and consultation to grassroots activists in cities around the country who are challenging the growing trend of government and law enforcement to criminalize and monetarily fine the distribution of leaflets and posters.

We can't do this work without your help. We are defending the anti-war and civil rights movements as they resist paying one penny in illegal fines to the government. Please make a generous donation to help carry out this work in defense of free speech rights.

Click here to read the Associated Press story titled "Judge will allow First Amendment challenge to rules governing political posters in Washington"

Click here to read the Washington Post article titled "D.C. lamppost sign regulations may be unconstitutional, judge says"

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