ACLU of MI Sues Dearborn Over 30-Day "Waiting Period" for Protests

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
January 21, 2003 12:00 am

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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Dearborn challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance that makes it a crime to protest unless a permit is obtained at least 30 days before the event.

“The 30-day waiting period prevents citizens from demonstrating at a time when they can be most effective in influencing public policy,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “If the Dearborn City Council schedules a vote next week on a proposal to fire half of the City employees, should the workers have to wait a month to protest that proposal?”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a national civil rights organization with offices in Dearborn, and Imad Chammout, a Dearborn resident and business owner.

Dearborn officials prosecuted Chammout last spring for participating in a march without a permit, a crime punishable by up to 90 days in prison and a $500 fine. The march, which was not organized by Chammout, was held to protest Israeli policies a few days after Israeli soldiers entered into a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.

“It was important to me to be able to speak out about what was happening,” Chammout said. “Now I want to make sure that others have the right to do that without the fear of being arrested or jailed.”

Both ADC and Chammout would like to organize marches in the future to promptly respond to national or international events, including the potential U.S. invasion of Iraq, the ACLU said in legal papers. However, the Dearborn ordinance may chill any effort of that kind.

“A march a couple of days after an event would attract far more protesters and enthusiasm than a march a month later and is therefore more likely to sway the undecided,” said Nabih Ayad, general counsel for ADC and an attorney on this case.

“We’re hopeful that we will be successful in this case since the courts have previously struck down ordinances with waiting periods as short as three days when political speech was at stake,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Bill Wertheimer. “Cities certainly have a legitimate interest in controlling traffic and large crowds, but a 30-day waiting period is extreme.”

Other attorneys working on the case are Cynthia Heenan, a cooperating attorney for the National Lawyers Guild, ACLU Cooperating Attorney Majed Moughni and ACLU Attorneys Noel Saleh and Michael J. Steinberg.

No date for a hearing has been set. The ACLU’s legal complaint is online at http://www.aclumich.org/briefs/dearborncomplaint.pdf

In addition to filing a complaint, the ACLU also today filed a preliminary injunction motion asking the court to immediately bar enforcement of the waiting period policy because of the strong likelihood that it will be found unconstitutional. The motion is online at http://www.aclumich.org/briefs/dearbornbrief.pdf

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