Raleigh, N.C. — The General Assembly has established new rules governing protests and other activities that take place in the courtyard area situated between the House and the Senate chambers.
A memo from Kory Goldsmith, the legislature's interim legislative services officer, amends the building rules to allow the General Assembly Police to designate specific areas of the courtyard rotunda area for specific uses.
Although the new rule would apply to a number of different activities, it most directly addresses the protests that have gathered under the "Moral Monday" banner over the past two years and have led to the arrest of more than 1,000 individuals.
"There are a lot of different uses, or a lot of different ways that area is utilized, and one of those is free speech," Goldsmith said.
Last year, a committee of lawmakers known as the Legislative Services Commission adjusted the building rules to address the Moral Monday protests. Goldsmith said that she put this latest provision in place under her authority as the staff member designated by that group.
A number of different liberal organizations, led by the North Carolina conference of the NAACP, have coalesced around the Moral Monday movement. Often during their weekly protests, individuals associated with the protest against GOP-led policies would gather in the courtyard area outside the House or the Senate chamber to sing, chant and declaim upon legislation.
Often, those protesters would stand in front of the giant brass doors that serve as the main entryway to either chamber.
General Assembly Police made arrests when those individuals refused to leave the building. However, hundreds of those cases have been thrown out or dismissed after judges found the legislative building rules from 2013 and 2014 were too broad. A U.S. Supreme Court case that formed the basis of the dismissals said a government entity had to specifically determine who is "actually disrupting or obstructing legitimate governmental interests."
A spokesman for the NAACP said lawyers with the group are reviewing the new building rules but did not offer further comment.
According to Goldsmith, the new rule would allow the General Assembly Police to set aside areas for free speech where protesters or others could stand without obstructing access to the legislative chambers or other parts of the building. The goals for the new rules, she said, are to allow for free speech without disrupting legislative work or resorting to arrests.
"We want to accommodate all possible uses if we can. That's our intent," she said.
However, even protesters who remain in a designated free speech area could run into legal problems. For example, it's possible they could be loud enough to disrupt legislative proceedings.
"The level of noise will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis," Goldsmith said. "Nothing in that (rule) allows people to disrupt the work of the General Assembly."