A federal judge has upheld Idaho’s state law banning camping on state property near the Capitol, ruling against Occupy Boise members who sued to challenge the law. “The state here has the right to ban camping, cooking, making fires, and storing personal belongings related to camping,” U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill found. “Occupy Boise may maintain its symbolic tent city on the Capitol Mall grounds so long as it complies with all constitutional rules and regulations.”
The judge, in his 20-page ruling, noted that initially, Gov. Butch Otter ordered Occupy Boise evicted from the site immediately after he signed the legislation into law, and the Idaho State Police prepared an eviction plan they dubbed “De-Occupy Boise.” The judge then issued an injunction blocking the move. “The stated intention of Governor Otter’s edict and the State Police’s ‘De-Occupy Boise’ operation plan was to remove Occupy Boise entirely,” Winmill wrote. He found that violated the First Amendment.
“Since the Court issued its injunction barring the State from removing Occupy Boise’s tent city, it seems the State Police have scrapped their initial enforcement plan,” Winmill wrote. “If the State does not use the no-camping statutes to target Occupy Boise’s political speech, it stands on much better footing.” He also found constitutional the portion of the law requiring the state to hold personal property left on the site for 90 days and then dispose of it.
Still pending in the case is a challenge of the state’s administrative rules for enforcing the new law. You can read the judge’s ruling here; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.
Judge rules in favor of state in Occupy Boise case
By TODD DVORAK, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has sided with Idaho in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Occupy Boise protesters, finding that the state's no-camping statute on public space near the Capitol is constitutional and that efforts to regulate the ban did not infringe on free speech rights.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued the ruling last week, his latest in a case that began in 2012 when the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, on behalf of four Occupy Boise protesters, sued the state after lawmakers and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter tried to evict the protesters from the Capitol Annex lawn.
In his ruling, Winmill said lawmakers have the authority to regulate the protesters and impose reasonable rules and regulations, providing those limits don't specifically target content or political speech.
"The no-camping statute at issue in this case, on its face, is a reasonable time, place and manner restriction," Winmill wrote in a 20-page order. "The court ... finds no evidence that the State's current effort at enforcing the camping ban has unconstitutionally targeted Occupy Boise's expressive conduct."
In late 2011, protesters in Boise began camping out on the lawn of the annex — located across the street from the state Capitol — in a show of solidarity for the bigger Occupy Wall Street protest unfolding in New York and other cities. Within weeks a tent city emerged and protesters began sleeping, cooking and holding organizational meetings at the site around the clock.
Months later, Otter signed a bill banning camping on state grounds, including the annex, setting the stage for the state police to plan to evict the protesters and seize and dispose of the property on site. But the new state law simply provoked protesters into challenging the statute on grounds it infringed on their constitutional rights to free speech and free association.
Winmill initially sided with Occupy Boise and he issued a preliminary injunction putting the brakes on the government's plans to remove protesters and the makeshift community. As part of his injunction, Winmill decided the state could ban camping activities like cooking and sleeping, but the tents could stay. Winmill later required protesters to remove the tents temporarily so the state could mow and perform other maintenance on the grounds.
The latest decision clarifies the state's no camping ban and also upholds a separate law for disposing of property left behind by protesters.
But ACLU attorney Ritchie Eppink said the ruling also solidifies the initial victory for the ability of Occupy Boise and future groups to express themselves on state owned property.
"There was some question, up to this decision last week, that the state wanted to go back in time, and that a protest like this one isn't protected speech and that areas like this could be closed off entirely. They did not prevail in that respect," Eppink said.
He also said the opinion remains under review to determine whether to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The judge also scheduled oral arguments later this month to consider the legality of rules drafted last year by the state Department of Administration that limit protests on state property near the Capitol. Those rules include a ban on overnight camping.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.