ACLU of Texas Sues Gov. Bush, State Officials Over Arrest of Demonstrators
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUSTIN, TX — Acting on behalf of protestors who were arrested while exercising their free speech rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas today filed a lawsuit against Gov. George W. Bush and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The ACLU announced the lawsuit at a news conference this afternoon outside the Governor’s Mansion, where peaceful, non-disruptive environmental protesters have been arrested at least four times since March and threatened with arrest if they protest again.
Although prosecutors dismissed all charges against the protestors, the ACLU said the Governor has maintained the right to arrest them, saying in an April 1999 news conference that “the rules have changed.” But despite the ACLU’s repeated requests, state officials have not provided a copy of the “revised” rules — or any rules at all.
“These hidden rules that essentially give unlimited police discretion to exclude and arrest critics, when they make criticism in public, violate Texas Constitutional rights to free speech, petition, equal protection, due process, and freedom from unreasonable seizures,” the ACLU’s complaint said.
“What is clear about this pattern of arrests is that it was designed to intimidate and harass protestors — not to keep the sidewalks clear for pedestrians,” said Jay Jacobson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas.
For years, the Governor’s Mansion has been the regular site of press conferences, rallies, informational pickets, and protests by people with opinions on many issues. But beginning in March 1999, police officers began to selectively warn protestors that they were subject to arrest.
On at least four different occasions, the ACLU’s complaint said, citizen groups were arrested when they did not disperse quickly enough to suit state police officers. The groups were critical of state policies encouraging industrial pollution and had urged passage of laws to clean Texas air. But their lobbying and public education efforts were stymied, the ACLU said, when they were arrested and forced to disperse.
“This case is being brought under the free speech and assembly sections of the Texas Bill of Rights,” said David Kahne, an ACLU cooperating attorney. “We are asking the court to secure the most basic of fundamental rights – that of political expression in a public forum.”
Although charges were dismissed against all of the protesters, the ACLU said a threat remains, because the Department of Public Safety is still asserting the right to bring new charges against these same people, and has said that the decision to bring the charges would depend on whether the protestors continue to seek to express their opinions.
The case, Texas United Education Fund, Inc. v. Bush, is being brought in state court in Travis County, Texas, on behalf of Texans United Education Fund, Inc., Downwinders at Risk, and individuals Rick Abraham, Roger Baker, and Jim Baldauf.
Defendants in the case are George W. Bush, Governor of Texas, and the Texas Department of Public Safety and its Commissioners, James B. Francis, Robert B. Holt, and M. Colleen McHugh.
Attorney David Kahne of Houston is lead counsel for the ACLU, working with Terrill L. Flenniken of Brenham and David Kairys of Philadelphia.
The complaint filed by the ACLU is available online at:
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in Free Speech
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Free Speech
Protecting free speech means protecting a free press, the democratic process, diversity of thought, and so much more. The ACLU has worked since 1920 to ensure that freedom of speech is protected for everyone.