Court bars Idaho from removing future symbolic tent city protests
BOISE - A federal judge today issued an order barring the state of Idaho from removing Occupy Boise tents placed on state property as part of political protests in the future.
The court ruled earlier that the state can constitutionally ban overnight sleeping and camping – but that restricting political protests, including 24-hour ones, violates the Constitution.
Seven rules that the Idaho Legislature passed to restrict such protests already were found unconstitutional; the Legislature then revoked the rules this past winter. Now that those rules are revoked, that portion of the lawsuit is moot, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled. But the Occupy group also asked for a ruling declaring that aside from the rules, the state can’t enforce laws it passed restricting protests in ways that violate Occupy Boise’s First Amendment free-speech rights.
Winmill noted that as soon as Gov. Butch Otter signed the measures into law in 2012, he issued a directive to evict the Occupy tents from state property across from the state Capitol, and the Idaho State Police, following the governor’s directive, developed a detailed plan called “Operation De-Occupy Boise” to remove the items. “This policy targets political speech for suppression, and Occupy is entitled to a declaration that it violates the group’s First Amendment rights,” Winmill wrote.
“Going forward, the state has a great deal of discretion in enforcing the statutes,” the judge wrote. “Given the state’s history of targeting Occupy … there is a real threat that the state could use that discretion to undermine Occupy’s protests.” So he specifically ordered the state to enforce those laws in the future only in ways that are consistent with the court’s ruling on free speech rights.
Richard Eppink, legal director of the ACLU of Idaho and attorney for Occupy Boise, said, “This has been a long and costly battle over liberties that the state should treasure, not suppress. Let’s hope this permanent injunction gets our elected leaders to stop and think, and to start welcoming dissent, rather than trying to squelch it.”
The Occupy Boise group erected a symbolic tent city across from the state Capitol in 2012, prompting the Legislature to take a variety of steps to get rid of the encampment, which lawmakers could see clearly out the Capitol’s east-facing windows during the legislative session.