This is the sign I held silently in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda for about 45 minutes yesterday, until Capitol Police threatened to arrest me if I didn't "take it outside." I gave them the sign, not being in a position to "extend" my lunch hour. Yes, the sign is blank.
Eight people were arrested, however, and three more this morning. They were cited for "illegal display" in violation of § Adm. 2.07(2).
Something very interesting happened around noon today, though. Read on to find out what stopped the Capitol Police in their tracks.
Yesterday a judge issued a decision in a first amendment suit brought by some protesters regarding an incident that happened last year. The decision was made widely available today.
The lawsuit was dismissed, and did not deal in any way with the arrests of yesterday and today, but did deal with some very similar arrests. The judge punts on the lawsuit for a couple reasons, including because the Capitol Police reports are so vague it is not clear what the plaintiffs in this lawsuit were even charged with violating, making it impossible for the judge to rule on issues of constitutionality.
BUT THE JUDGE IS CLEAR ABOUT THIS:
"...the language of § Adm. 2.07(2) does not prohibit the Plaintiffs' conduct. The title of the rule is 'exterior and interior displays and decorations.' The text of § Adm. 2.07(2) states that the DOA's express written permission is required for a sign to be 'erected, attached, mounted or displayed.'That would explain why the Capitol Police were called into a meeting at about noon today, and why they suddenly stopped arresting people quietly holding signs. They did make one more arrest for an earlier incident unrelated to holding signs in the Capitol.
"Here, the Plaintiffs were issued citations for holding a sign on the first floor of the rotunda. As such, their signs were not 'erected, attached, [or] mounted,' which therefore means that their actions could only fall within the text of § Adm. 2.07(2) if their signs were 'displayed.' However, the word 'displayed' implies something more than an individual holding a handmade sign over their head. Instead, as is generally known, the Capitol rotunda is frequently a place where freestanding artwork and such things are showcased, especially around the holiday season.
"The term 'displayed' implies something like a freestanding exhibit showcased in the Capitol, not an individual holding a handmade sign over their head comparing the governor to a character in a comic book. Thus, the terms of § Adm. 2.07(2) does not prohibit the Plaintiffs' conduct. Second, the DOA's new Facilities Access Policy supports the conclusion that § Adm. 2.07(2) did not apply to the Plaintiffs' conduct. (Lazar's First Aff. Ex. C). The Policy defines an 'exhibit' as '[a]ny display of... signs or banners not held by an individual.'"
Good timing, judge. I'm guessing it was not a coincidence.
Now, please enjoy this video of an 87 year old woman from Antigo, Wisconsin who came to the Capitol today hoping to be arrested. She is being interviewed by a local TV reporter. The audio is not great, but I hope you can hear most of it.