Appeals Court Hears Arguments in ACLU Challenge to Seattle's WTO "No Protest Zone"

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
February 6, 2004 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Washington
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


SEATTLE — In arguments today before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington urged the court to rule that Seattle’s establishment of a “”No Protest Zone”” during the meeting of the World Trade Organization in 1999 violated basic free speech rights.

“”The city essentially created a militarized zone in downtown Seattle and banned all protest within this zone,”” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington. “”We are seeking a court ruling that the city’s actions were unconstitutional and cannot be repeated. Mass demonstrations are not new to this country. Seattle must be a place that is safe for conventions and for freedom.””

Today’s case stems from an ACLU lawsuit filed in March 2000 on behalf of people whose rights to freedom of speech were violated by the city’s actions. The ACLU is asking the appeals court to overturn an October 2001 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein upholding the constitutionality of the “”No Protest Zone.””

The ACLU represents individuals who were either kept out or forced out of the so-called No Protest Zone solely because they had anti-WTO cartoons, buttons, stickers, or signs.

Two ACLU plaintiffs were arrested while expressing their views. One of these, who had WTO conference credentials as a representative of a non-governmental organization, was chased by police and arrested while talking to a reporter and bystanders about his objections to WTO actions. Another was arrested by police after handing out copies of a New York Times editorial cartoon critical of WTO environmental policies.

Others had expressive material confiscated by police, such as copies of the First Amendment and protest signs, including one that said, “”I Have a Right to Non-Violent Protest.”” One plaintiff had an anti-WTO sign ripped from his clothing by police, and another was grabbed by police and threatened with arrest if she did not remove a protest sticker she was wearing. Three other individuals who were originally parties to the ACLU lawsuit accepted monetary damages of $5,000 each in settlement of their claims in August 2000.

“”The city made it a crime to engage in perfectly lawful acts of free speech,”” said Aaron Caplan, an ACLU staff attorney who is co-counsel in the case. “”In establishing and enforcing the ‘No Protest Zone,’ the city took action far beyond anything needed for legitimate concerns to provide security.””

ACLU cooperating attorney James Lobsenz of the firm Carney Badley Smith & Spellman argued today’s case.

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.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release