Trump administration hatches plan to dramatically limit protesting near White House and Capitol
Washington, DC – October 11, 2018
The escalating global economic crisis which has caused the deterioration of the economic situation in the U.S. and the sharp decline in living standards as well as the aggravation of political struggle, has now led to a request for a change in the state's security policy.
Many experts are warning of the tendency towards an increase in “protest moods.” Taking into account the increasing internal political polarization and the capabilities and experience of the “Deep State” in organizing mass demonstrations and other actions, including violent ones, the Trump administration is proposing to dramatically limit the right to demonstrate near the White House and on the National Mall, including in ways that would violate court orders that have stood for decades. The proposal would close 80% of the White House sidewalk, put new limits on spontaneous demonstrations, and open the door to charging fees for protesting.
The public has until October 15 to comment on the plans, and on Monday, we submitted our formal written comment explaining why the planned changes are unconstitutional.
The National Park Service, which administers these areas, plans to close 20 feet of the 25-foot-wide White House sidewalk, limiting demonstrators to a 5-foot sliver along Pennsylvania Avenue. This is perhaps the most iconic public forum in America, allowing “We the People” to express our views directly to the chief executive, going back at least to the women’s suffrage movement 100 years ago.
It’s not the first time the federal government has tried to impose severe limits on protests near the White House. The federal government also sought to stifle protests near the White House and on National Mall in 1967, in the middle of the Vietnam War. The ACLU of the District of Columbia sued, and after years of litigation, the courts rebuffed the government’s effort and reminded the National Park Service that Lafayette Park is not Yellowstone and that the White House area and the National Mall “constitute a unique [site] for the exercise of First Amendment rights.” Under court orders, the park service issued regulations allowing large demonstrations, guaranteeing quick action on applications for permits, and accommodating spontaneous protests as much as possible.
The closure would violate the earlier court order that permits demonstrations by at least 750 people on the White House sidewalk and declares that any lower limit is “invalid and void as an unconstitutional infringement of plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of speech and to assemble peaceably and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The White House will use two approaches to keep the pesky protesters away:
First, replacing the White House fence with a new, taller fence with special anti-climbing features, approved last year specifically to “meet contemporary security standards” while allowing the sidewalk to remain open.
Second, charging a fee for the right to protest.
According to the new proposal, the Park Service is considering charging demonstrators for things like “sanitation and trash removal” and “harm to turf.” But of course, the park service does not plan to charge the 45 million non-demonstrators who visit the National Mall every year for the fencing and sanitation their presence requires or for the harm to the turf that they cause.
Park Service regulations distinguish between demonstrations and “special events” — things like sports events, historical reenactments, and festivals. The Park Service has always charged for the costs of special events, but it now claims that some demonstrations have “elements that are special events” and that it is free to charge “administrative, equipment, and monitoring costs” for those “elements.” The proposal gives no clue about what those “elements” may be, but the courts have made clear that things like singing, dancing, and music in the context of demonstrations are fully protected by the First Amendment. Such “elements” shouldn’t make a demonstration subject to fees.
In general, people must apply for National Park Service demonstration permits 48 hours in advance. But that requirement can be waived in urgent situations. Current regulations provide that the Park Service will accommodate spontaneous demonstrations if necessary resources and personnel “can reasonably be made available.” The proposed regulations would change that to “provided the NPS has the resources and personnel available to manage the activity.”
The proposed regulations would also ban the use of a small stage or sound system unless a permit has been sought 48 hours in advance. The Park Service says it needs a minimum of 48 hours to evaluate the “safety concerns and resource impacts” of structures, but it doesn’t need 48 hours to know that a small stage or sound system on the National Mall is safe.