Dane County Judge John Markson has ruled that Wisconsin's permitting requirements for gatherings inside the Capitol are unconstitutional and dismissed 29 tickets issued to protestors.
“We at the ACLU of Wisconsin certainly hope this is the death knell of the state’s ‘unintimidated’ defense of its indefensible prosecutions,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Judge Markson's decision represents a significant victory for anyone who wishes to protest the government and do so without being intimidated by unlawful arrests or prosecution.”
Dupuis, in a news release, also praised the attorneys who worked pro-bono to defend the hundreds of protestors who received citations. “These dedicated attorneys all made individual contributions, resulting in a collective victory,” he said.
Capitol Police issued the tickets to protestors under the state’s former permitting system, which was adopted in November 2011. The former rules required groups as small as four to obtain prior permission from the government before engaging in expression “for the purpose of actively promoting any cause” inside the Capitol. The rules also prohibited people from gathering in the Capitol for any performance, ceremony, presentation, meeting or rally without a permit.
The ACLU of Wisconsin sued the state last February, charging that it violated the First Amendment by requiring permits for demonstrations held inside the Capitol and by punishing protesters who gathered there without a permit.
The ACLU of Wisconsin and Madison attorney A. Steven Porter brought the suit on behalf of Michael Kissick, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor. Kissick stopped exercising his First Amendment rights inside the Capitol in September 2012 because he feared being arrested.
U.S. District Judge William M. Conley halted enforcement of the permit process in July, ruling that the requirement as written was unconstitutional. The case was settled in October.
As part of the settlement, the state was forced to create a new notice system, which allows groups to gather inside the Capitol without a permit.
In his ruling yesterday, Judge Markson cited the significance of the Kissick case, writing, “For our purposes, the import of Kissick is clear: the [permitting] rule is unconstitutional on its face.”
State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, responded to the ruling: “Yesterday’s ruling, which dismissed 29 tickets, is just the latest in a series of events that proves Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen are on the wrong side of history and the constitution.
“Considering yesterday’s ruling, the DOJ must immediately dismiss all of the approximately 400 remaining frivolous citations. The individuals cited were simply exercising their constitutional free speech rights, which has now been again vindicated by our courts."