A federal judge has signed an order indefinitely barring the state from enforcing a curfew on Legislative Plaza, in the War Memorial courtyards and around the Capitol, reports The Tennessean.
David Briley, one of three attorneys representing Occupy Nashville, called Thursday’s action a victory for the protesters. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger converts a temporary, 21-day injunction to an injunction that will be in place until the court can fully decide whether the state’s actions violate protesters’ constitutional rights to assemble and exercise free speech.
“Everything we’ve filed makes it very clear that we believe what they were doing was clearly unconstitutional,” Briley said.
The state has stopped arresting protesters, after two nights in October when Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers swept up 49 people. All charges have been dropped, with the blessing of Gov. Bill Haslam.
The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, which is representing Haslam and the state in the suit, declined to comment.
See also Jeff Woods, who also looks back at emails to note that the Haslam administration was providing talking points about the arrests of protesters before the arrests were made.
The AP story on the judge’s order is below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — While Occupy Wall Street camps across the country are being evicted, Nashville protesters are staying put, at least for the time being.
On Thursday, federal judge Aleta Trauger signed an order for a preliminary injunction barring the state from enforcing a hastily drawn-up curfew policy that was used to briefly dislodge the encampment.
The injunction does not prohibit the state from drawing up new rules for the grounds surrounding the state Capitol, and Gov. Bill Haslam has said his administration intends to do so.
Protesters had been camping at the Legislative Plaza for about three weeks when the curfew was announced Oct. 27. There were 55 arrests on Oct. 28 and 29. On Monday, a Nashville judge dropped charges against the protesters and ordered their records expunged.
The Nashville protesters are part of the 2-month-old Occupy movement, which began in lower Manhattan to decry corporate influence in government and wealth inequality.
Thursday’s preliminary injunction was agreed to by both Occupy Nashville attorneys and the state and remains in effect until the court orders otherwise.
State Attorney General’s Office Senior Counsel Bill Marett previously said the administration would stop enforcing the “Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Courtyard and Capitol Grounds Use Policy” that includes a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Other provisions of the policy include a requirement that “all assemblies and gatherings” obtain a permit, pay fees and security costs and have liability insurance of $1 million.
Special use permits are needed for activities after 4 p.m. and are issued on a case-by-case basis. And specific authorization from the state is required for anyone to enter the plaza after the 10 p.m. curfew.
The request for a temporary restraining order was filed on Oct. 31 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and local attorneys on behalf of Occupy Nashville members and claims the policy violates protesters’ rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and due process.
In court that day, the federal judge agreed, calling the policy a “clear prior restraint on free speech rights.”
The complaint also argues that the rules are invalid because they were issued without following the established procedures for informing the public and giving them a chance to comment.
On Monday, Haslam said in an interview, “There’s a rulemaking process that we need to go through, which we will do. We’re going to involve a lot of different people in that discussion. What is the right use for state property? Whether it be Capitol grounds or War Memorial Plaza or anything else. So we intend to get a lot of input from constitutional lawyers, users of the space and other folks, so we can start the rulemaking process.”
For their part, the protesters have reserved the right to sue again if they disagree with the new policy.