Settlement Announced in Lawsuit Challenging Parade and Public Assembly Laws in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
FLORIDA - MAY 18 -In a victory for free speech, the U.S. District Court has approved a settlement agreement which prohibits the City of Ft. Lauderdale from enforcing several ordinances which allowed government officials to restrict political demonstrations on public sidewalks and streets in violation of the First Amendment. These laws included an exemption which allowed “bona-fide religious sects or organizations,” but not political groups, to freely assemble, contained no time limit on processing permits for parades and assemblies, granted unlawful discretion to government officials to deny permits based on disagreement with the views expressed, and unreasonably regulated the items that could be used to convey a political message.
Under the settlement, the City must review and decide on all demonstration permits within two business days and can no longer make subjective decisions about which groups to grant, or deny, permits to. The City also cannot require permits for parades or assemblies on public sidewalks or roadways where participants obey all traffic regulations or unreasonably obstruct sidewalk passage or unlawfully restrict the manner in which demonstrators want to voice their views.
The suit was brought in June 2006 by the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, the Broward Anti-War Coalition, the Broward County Green Party, the Green Party of Florida, Haiti Solidarity and Lake Worth for Global Justice to protect demonstrators’ constitutional rights in anticipation of human rights protests at the first U.S. meeting of the Organization of American States. After similar laws were used by the City of Miami in 2003 to curtail protests at the Free Trade Areas of the Americas (“FTAA”) meetings, the groups sought to proactively have the court uphold their constitutional rights in order to deter police misconduct, preempt unlawful arrests and prevent infringement on their constitutional right to make their views known.
“This settlement should send a message to other cities—think twice before enacting or enforcing similar laws which interfere with the right to dissent and political protest,” said Carol Sobel, who litigated the case on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild. “After we won a preliminary injunction preventing the City from enforcing these laws, it was clear that the court agreed with our view that government cannot just disregard the First Amendment.”
In addition, the City will pay attorneys’ fees and $10,000 in damages to the plaintiffs. Counsel on the case include: Carol Sobel, Robert Ross, Mara Shlackman and Andrea Costello for the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee; and Alice Nelson of Southern Legal Counsel; and Zeina Salam and Randall Marshall of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
The Complaint and Order Approving the Settlement Agreement are available at www.nlg.org