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Judge blocks tent removal at Occupy Boise site

BOISE - A federal judge has enjoined the state of Idaho from removing tents from the Occupy Boise encampment across from the state Capitol at 5 p.m. today as planned.

“Occupy Boise’s tent city is a political protest of income inequality,” wrotes U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in his decision today, which blocks the state from removing tents on the site on 1st Amendment grounds, but upholds the state’s new ban on camping there.

“Once a state law, or the state’s enforcement of that law, targets certain speech for restriction because of its content - especially when the target is political speech in a public forum - the law is presumptively unconstitutional,” Winmill wrote.

He found that the new state law “only prohibits ‘sleeping’ and ‘camping’ on state grounds and does not purport to ban the maintenance of a symbolic tent city which could be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Yet Gov. (Butch) Otter’s letter announcing his signing of the legislation appears to require the removal of all tents, and that appears to be how the State Police are interpreting the law. Such action is simply not authorized by the statute.”

The judge’s decision found that the state can ban camping - including having camping items like cooking facilities on state property - but that it can’t remove the whole “symbolic tent city erected by Occupy Boise,” as the state had planned to do today.

“The Court directs the state to delay until March 2, 2012, the seizure of any personal belongings at the encampment to give all parties a chance to read, understand and comply with this decision,” Winmill wrote.

Jon Hanian, press secretary for Otter, said, “We just received it about an hour and a half ago. … Obviously we’re going to follow the law and the judge’s order.”