Federal Judge Rejects City's Efforts to Modify Police Spying Guidelines

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
October 1, 1999 12:00 am

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CHICAGO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today welcomed a court’s rejection of Chicago’s efforts to modify a 1982 court order regulating police investigations of free-speech activities.

The court’s consent decree prohibits the gathering of information protected by the First Amendment unless it cannot be avoided in the face of a criminal investigation. Before police activities were regulated, the city’s “Red Squad,” founded in the 1930s, compiled files on a wide range of groups.

“We are gratified by the decision and the absolute repudiation of the city’s false assertion that the decree hampers effective law enforcement,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois.

The city had argued that the law had changed since the entry of the consent decree, and that as a result the police should now be free to investigate First Amendment protected activity.

In her decision today, U.S. District Judge Ann Claire Williams concluded that there was no change in constitutional protections of freedom of speech and association.

A review of Supreme Court First Amendment cases, Judge Williams said, suggests that the free speech rights at issue “are alive and well and still protected under the First Amendment.”

Specifically, the city had argued that the decree prevented police from engaging in necessary investigative activities in prosecuting gangs, organized crime, hate crimes and terrorism. But Judge Williams also agreed with the ACLU’s analysis that, as written, the decree does not bar law enforcement officials from conducting these activities.

“Since many of the city’s claimed prohibited activities are actually permitted,” Judge Williams wrote “the court finds that the city’s concerns that continued enforcement of the decree is bad public policy are exaggerated.”

The ACLU expressed relief at an end to the city’s attempts to undermine the earlier court order.

“The Court has clearly stated that the decree strikes a proper balance between proper and effective law enforcement and the protection of free speech and association” said Edward Feldman, co-counsel for ACLU and a partner of the law firm Miller, Shakman, Hamilton, Kurtzon & Schlifke.

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