Judge: Lawmakers go too far in limiting legislative protests

Posted June 13, 2014

— A Superior Court judge on Friday issued a restraining order against some of the rules lawmakers adopted regarding demonstrations in the Legislative Building, ruling they are too broad to be enforced.

While unlikely that the restraining order will be drafted, signed and served by next Monday, when a large-scale protest at the General Assembly is planned, the fact that the judge announced his decision in open court makes that paperwork simply a formality.

The state chapter of the NAACP and five protesters in the "Moral Monday" movement filed suit Wednesday to block enforcement of the building rules, which lawmakers hastily rewrote in May before the Moral Monday demonstrations resumed for a second year.

The changes came after the acquittal of some of the more than 900 people arrested last summer during the weekly protests of the Republican-led General Assembly's legislative agenda. The new rules state that protesters cannot make enough noise to interfere with conversation, and they allow General Assembly Police officers to order anyone to leave the building if they think those people pose an "imminent threat" of a disturbance.

"We're in a country born out of protest, but in this General Assembly, they want to shut it down," said Irving Joyner, an attorney for the protesters.

Joyner argued that the Legislative Building is where North Carolina residents are allowed, under the state constitution, to "interact with their legislators and to make their grievances known." The rules are "vague and overbroad" and have a "chilling effect" on people trying to exercise their rights, he said.

Both he and fellow attorney Scott Holmes pointed out the different standard between "disturbing" and "disruption." Anything that disrupts the legislature could legally be stopped, but it's left to the discretion of police as to whether something is disturbing, they said.

"There was no measurable evidence there was any actual disruption," Holmes said of the protests.

Holmes also questioned the authority of the Legislative Services Commission, a panel of lawmakers that drafted the new rules. The rules aren't created by statute or under the Administrative Procedures Act, he said, and they exist only when legislative leaders choose to enforce them.

"It's a constitutional mess," he said, noting that top lawmakers were invoking powers of the executive branch to create the rules and use their own police force to enforce them. "These are unconstitutional rules promulgated by an unconstitutional entity."

Special Deputy Attorney General Amar Majmunder said that argument was ludicrous, noting the General Assembly can make its own rules for the safe operation of its own building.

The rules aren't a form of prior restraint, Majmunder said, noting anyone is allowed into the building and is asked to quiet down and then warned at least once more if they continue to cause a disturbance before police even contemplate arresting them.

"They have three strikes before we even get to the doomsday scenario described by plaintiffs' attorneys," he said.

Judge Carl Fox asked whether police were prepared to arrest the hordes of schoolchildren who regularly visit the Legislative Building on field trips, noting they are usually much louder than any organized demonstration.

Majmunder replied that teachers usually get their students in line by the first warning, adding that youths understand the importance of not disturbing a workplace.

"Even kids understand that this is an important place, and we all have our right to be there and exchange ideas and learn from one another, but we don't have the right to disturb others," he said. "(The protesters) want this court to order that they can say and do anything, that there are no bounds – decency be damned."

Only 14 people have been arrested under the new rules, and they were involved in a sit-in in House Speaker Thom Tillis' office last month.

Fox ruled that the rules prohibiting demonstrations that interfere with conversations or protests that "create any impediment to others' free movement" are too vague, and he issued a restraining order against them. He also barred enforcement of a rule that allowed police to confiscate signs "used to disturb or used in a manner that will imminently disturb the General Assembly."

"We protect a lot of things that people write on signs," he said. "This goes a little farther than is necessary to protect the legislature."

The restraining order will run out in two weeks, and Fox said more evidence is needed in another hearing before any decision is made on whether other sections of the rules, such as restricting the time, place and manner of demonstrations, can be enforced.


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  • dirtydozen431 Jun 16, 2014

    The Moral Monday protestors will drive more Republicans to the polls than the Marriage Amendment protestors did. The more press the MM's get the longer the lines will be for Repubs in November.

  • Joseph Shepard Jun 16, 2014
    user avatar

    "ouche....these people are peacefully protesting their govt. in a public building, which is their right.
    How different is this to the (less than) peaceful protests of the original 'tea partiers' way back when in Boston??
    Oh but that was ok, they were protesting the tyranny of govt......
    Hmmmm.....get it?" DOWNEAST:::
    " Peacefully protesting their government in a public building"? Singing, shouting, clapping, being as disruptive as they can in order to interfere or disrupt the work of the duly elected legislature is peacefully protesting? That they have a right to protest is not questioned. They do not have the right to interfere with the rights of other people going about their legitimate, legally protected business. Their right to protest does not override the rights of others. As for the original tea partiers in Boston, Bit of a stretch there isn't it?? Completely different circumstances, apples to oranges and all that..

  • Michael Clay Jun 16, 2014
    user avatar

    I totally agree.

  • Justa Smith Jun 16, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    This ruling does not grant nor reinforce the idea of unrestricted right to do as one wants. What it does do is signal to the legislature that they need to develop "rules" which are clear, specific, and cannot be arbitrarily enforced. A reasonable standard, would you not agree?

  • Justa Smith Jun 16, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    What does death threats by phone have to do with protests at the legislature. Do you have evidence or reason to believe that the two are linked? If so, cite your source.

  • Glock07 Jun 16, 2014

    Maybe we should start protesting in the courtrooms at all of the travesty that happens there. May change the ruling.

  • juliomercado Jun 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Touche! I had to laugh at your post. I don't agree, but I can def see your point!

  • Kenny Dunn Jun 16, 2014
    user avatar

    It will be interesting to follow this as it proceeds. Sounds like they've had some legitimate issues that need to be resolved.

  • Grand Union Jun 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Funny how the right are so keen on their rights when its something they want and so against the rights of others..........

    Did any of you actually read his ruling?
    Apparently not.

  • Jack Jones Jun 16, 2014
    user avatar

    Disappointed to hear so many negative posts, as it would appear conservatives just won't quit whining about anything.