Attorneys representing Gov. Bill Haslam and various state agencies are appealing a recent federal ruling that found the state unlawfully arrested members of the Occupy Nashville group. reports the Tennessean. According to a notice of appeal filed late last week, the state objects to U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger siding with the Occupy Nashville plaintiffs.
Trauger wrote that the state “cannot make law by fiat” and that the protesters’ First Amendment rights were violated when they were arrested. The appeal, which will be heard by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, will be spelled out in detail in about a month, when the appeal’s legal brief is filed, according to attorney Dawn Jordan, who is representing the state.
Last month, Trauger wrote that state and local agencies made a series of mistakes in the way they handled the Occupy Nashville protesters in the fall of 2011. State officials have held that the Occupy encampment on War Memorial Plaza was a public safety concern, pointing to mounting trash and reports of fights and lewd behavior.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled in favor of members of the Occupy Nashville movement who claimed their free speech rights were violated when they were arrested while protesting in 2011 on War Memorial Plaza.
U.S. District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote in an order issued on Wednesday that the seven plaintiffs’ rights to engage in constitutionally protected free speech activity was violated when they were arrested based on a hastily written rule that banned camping on the plaza.
The plaintiffs sued Gov. Bill Haslam, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Commissioner of General Services Steven Cates. Trauger’s order denied some of the plaintiffs’ claims but also said that they had prevailed in proving that the state officials could be held liable on claims of violations of free speech rights, violation of due process and unlawful arrest.
Following the national Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters began a 24-hour-a-day presence on the plaza outside of the state Capitol in early October 2011. But the state started getting complaints about trash and public urination and other problems. The state then issued a new policy banning overnight camping on the state property.
In the early morning of Oct. 28, 2011, several protesters were arrested, but a local judicial commissioner refused to sign the arrest warrants because there had not been enough notice of the policy change. The following night, more protesters were arrested, but they were released with misdemeanor citations.
Trauger wrote in her order that even though the state had concerns about public safety on the plaza, officials still had to follow the law to address those concerns.
“Instead, without providing adequate notice to the public at large, they informally attempted to change the law overnight, made no record of the proceedings, and failed to consult with the Attorney General, who otherwise must pass on the constitutional validity of any rule (whether adopted through traditional or emergency procedures) before it becomes law,” Trauger wrote.
David Briley, an attorney representing the Occupy Nashville group, called the ruling a resounding victory for the principles of free speech and protest.
The public library’s new photo cards won’t qualify as voter IDs in Thursday’s elections, and the long-term outlook for the voter-photo initiative of Mayor A C Wharton appears in serious jeopardy after a two-hour hearing in a Nashville federal court, reports Richard Locker. U.S. Dist. Judge Aleta Trauger denied the City of Memphis’ request for an injunction ordering election officials to accept the photo cards as identification under Tennessee’s law requiring most voters to present photo IDs at polling precincts before they can cast ballots.
Although the judge said “there are parts of this act (the state law) that make no sense to the court and it does appear there will be unfair impacts, particular on the elderly,” she said the plaintiffs in the case — the City of Memphis and a Memphis voter — “are not likely to succeed on the merits” in their efforts to allow the library-issued cards to qualify.
One of the provisions of the voter-photo statute passed by the new Republican majority in the Tennessee legislature last year that Trauger and even attorneys for the state agreed “makes no sense” allows long-expired hunting licenses or other photo ID issued by any other state to qualify for Tennessee voting — but not photo IDs issued by Tennessee cities or counties.
“I certainly do hope the legislature revisits this act because to the court, it is nonsensical that someone who holds an expired hunting license from another state and someone who has a photo ID from the library” are treated differently when it comes to voting, Trauger said.
— Note: Statements on the judge’s decision below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state of Tennessee agreed Monday to stop enforcing a new curfew used to dislodge Occupy Nashville protesters from the grounds around the Tennessee Capitol.
The protesters went to federal court seeking a temporary restraining order against Gov. Bill Haslam saying the curfew and arrests of dozens of supporters violated their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.
State Attorney General’s Office Senior Counsel Bill Marett announced at the beginning of a hearing before Judge Aleta Trauger that the state would not fight efforts to halt the policy.
Trauger said she had already decided to grant the restraining order because she the curfew was a “clear prior restraint on free speech rights.”
“I can’t think of a more quintessential public forum than Legislative Plaza,” Trauger said.
State troopers used the curfew put into place on Thursday to arrest 29 protesters early Friday and 26 people early Saturday.
Both times a Nashville magistrate refused to jail the protesters saying the state didn’t have probable cause to arrest them. They were released with citations.
The Nashville protesters are part of the six-week-old Occupy movement, which began in lower Manhattan to decry corporate influence in government and wealth inequality. It has spread to cities large and small across the country and around the world.
Marett said his office will meet with the plaintiffs to come to an agreement on health and safety issues.
The suit says Haslam approved the new curfew after complaints over three misdemeanor violations — “an assault, public urination and an apparent tryst beneath a magnolia tree” — around Legislative Plaza, where the protesters have been rallying since Oct. 6.
Note: Other coverage of the court hearing in Nashville Scene; the Tennessean.