Federal Court Rules Indiana Protester's Rights Violated During Cheney Visit

Affiliate: ACLU of Indiana
March 17, 2005 12:00 am

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EVANSVILLE, IN-In a victory for free speech rights and the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, a federal judge ruled today that Evansville police violated a protester’s constitutional rights by restricting his movement and arresting him for disorderly conduct before a 2002 appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney.

In granting summary judgment on John Blair’s claim that his First Amendment rights were violated, U.S. District Court Judge Larry J. McKinney directly addressed the recent trend of using security concerns as justification for limiting advocates to so-called “protest zones” far away from official events.

“The restriction of protesters to an area 500 feet away from the only entrance used by attendees, and on the opposite end of the building from where Vice President Cheney would enter the facility . . . burdened speech substantially more than was necessary to further the Defendants’ goals of safety,” Judge McKinney wrote.

The case arose from the Vice President’s visit to Evansville on February 6, 2002. Blair, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and writer, held a sign stating, “Cheney, 19th Century Energy Man,” and stood across the street from the arena where Cheney was to appear. Blair was arrested for disorderly conduct after he failed to immediately comply with Evansville Police Department officers’ orders to move to the designated protest zone.He was later charged with resisting law enforcement, but the charges were dismissed six days after Blair’s arrest.

“This is an era when the First Amendment is under attack by law enforcement limiting protest activities, so this decision reaffirming the right to free speech is a significant one,” said Indiana Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Ken Falk, who represents Blair.

The court also ruled that Evansville police lacked probable cause in arresting Blair, and granted summary judgment on his claim that Evansville police violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The court stayed the scheduling of a trial to determine Blair’s damages until one of the Evansville police officers returns from active military duty.

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