ACLU of Texas Files Lawsuit Over Restrictions on Protesters Outside President’s Ranch

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
June 30, 2006 12:00 am

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Plaintiffs include Cindy Sheehan, Daniel Ellsberg, & Ann Wright
WACO, TX —The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas today asked a district judge to block McLennan County officials from enforcing orders aimed at restricting anti-war protesters outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, saying the orders violate free speech rights and exceed the officials’ authority.

“This suit is not about the president or politics. It is not even about the war,” said Will Harrell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas. “It is about the County Commissioners’ decision to overstep their own authority in an effort to unlawfully restrict the protected activities of a group of protesters and the media by limiting their access to space, restroom facilities, and shelter from the elements.”

The ACLU is representing Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004, and became a leading voice against the war after going to Crawford last summer in the hopes of meeting with President Bush. She was joined by thousand of activists from across the country at “Camp Casey I,” including plaintiff Daniel Ellsberg, author of the Pentagon Papers, and plaintiff Ann Wright, a Colonel with the U.S. Army Reserve and former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, who resigned from the State Department in protest of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The challenged orders are aimed at shutting down Camp Casey I. The orders specifically prohibit stopping and parking vehicles on specific roads in McLennan County, and “residing, erecting shelters or erecting sewage receptacles on the right of way of public roads.” The effect of the orders, the ACLU said, was to force protesters to stand in direct sun at all times in a location where temperatures in August regularly top 100 degrees, and drive or walk 10 roundtrip miles each time they needed to use the bathroom, or face arrest and possible criminal charges.

“The County Commissioners do not have any legal authority to restrict access to roads beyond that delegated to them by the state, but that is exactly what they did here. The Commissioners also created a criminal penalty for a violation of a state civil law, which is an action only the legislature can take,” said David Broiles, a cooperating attorney and state board member of the ACLU of Texas. “In its zeal to shut down the protests, the county simply ignored the statutory restrictions on its authority and the relevant legal definitions in the Texas Transportation and Natural Resources Codes.”

Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas, added: “As recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions confirm, no governmental body — be it local, state, or federal — is entitled to simply ignore the limits on its own authority. And when it does so in order to squelch a message it doesn’t agree with, as the county did in this case, it violates the most fundamental promise of the First Amendment.”

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