This just in:
Gov. Scott Walker's administration is dropping its requirement that protesters in the state Capitol receive a permit to hold demonstrations.
The Walker administration faced a lawsuit in federal court brought by a protester and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin over the permitting requirement that was headed to trial in January. Under the agreement, the state Department of Administration will keep its permitting rules in places but still allow at least five days of demonstrations if protesters simply give the state two days' notice.
"This is a victory because giving notice is significantly different from forcing people to ask the government for permission to exercise free speech," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. "Giving notice is very informal. The state can't deny use of the Capitol to anyone giving notice, unless someone else has reserved the entire space by obtaining a permit for the same time."
The ACLU lawsuit had big legs because the Wisconsin Constitution very plainly states that the right to assemble and protest "may never
be abridged" (bolding mine).
The requirement to obtain a permit for groups of 20 or more was put in place unilaterally by the Department of Administration. Like all state government departments, it was headed by a Walker appointee, i.e. loyalist. The permit requirement, among other new rules, were the means to prevent not only protests, but signs, or other methods of expressing an opinion like wearing a message printed on a T shirt. Other rules, enacted by the Republican dominated Legislature, prohibited the use of cameras or recording devices, wearing hats, or other petty provisions in the legislative galleries. Of course, carrying a concealed weapon wasn't prohibited.
The permit was odious not just because you had to ask for permission to protest, but because a group leader had to be identified and the group itself would assume full responsibility for all costs associated, including the costs of Capitol Police and for any damage the DOA said was done. And we all know the gazillion dollar estimate that the Department of Administration said was done by the 2011 protests (actual cost less than $500,000 including scheduled maintenance.
Under the agreement:
■ Groups with fewer than 12 participants in most cases will not be required to obtain a permit or provide advance notice for an event.
■ Groups with a dozen or more participants will be required to obtain a permit or provide advance notice of an event to use the statehouse.
■ To provide advance notice, groups must notify the state at least two business days before the planned event and provide details of the event including the date, start and finish times, estimated number of attendees, and contact information for one or more people in the group. The advance notice event can be cancelled if it conflicts with a valid permitted event or a tour group.
Advance notices can be issued for five cumulative days.
While the ACLU is satisfied with the agreement, I'm not sure how I feel. We shouldn't have to notify anyone that citizens are going to show up to protest. And certainly not 2 days in advance. Somehow, I think that defeats the purpose.
Had the case gone to court, I fully believe that those permit rules would have been tossed out. Our State Constitution is very clear. Allowing the Walker Administration to weasel its way out by coming up with this settlement clearly abridges our rights to assemble and protest in a state where those rights are never to be abridged.
Still, Walker caved. His first really. And that's not nothing.
According to the records obtained under the Open Records Law, there have been no arrests of the Solidarity Singers since September 6. Prior to that date, swarms of Capitol Police and State Troopers swarmed in to manhandle and arrest singers and observers during the hour long Solidarity Singalong.
I've checked other news sources and the story isn't up. Neither is there any information yet on the state blogs I read or on the Solidarity Singers Facebook Page. I'm anxiously awaiting other reactions, particularly the Solidarity Singers themselves.
I'll update as other information is available. For right now the only opinion out there is mine.
The Madison Capitol Times has just chimed in calling the settlement a "significant concession" by the DOA and added additional information that the DOA will be paying the legal fees of the plaintiffs (that's a BFD).
The agreement, as described by the DOA, marks a significant concession in the Capitol situation, in which police, responding to a temporary federal injunction in July, started arresting people participating in the daily noon-time Solidarity Sing Along if they number more than 20. Since July 24, police have handed out over 300 citations for participating in an unpermitted event.
The DOA has also agreed to pay lawyers' fees of $88,270 to the plaintiffs.
Still nothing else on the settlement. I'll be interested in John Nichols take during his segment on Slys radio show
Update 2: Thank you everyone! I just noticed that yesterdays was my 200th recommended diary. Many thanks for your kindness and attention.
Update 3: Link to the settlement agreement (warning: pdf file)
The ACLU has also issued a statement.
The ACLU of Wisconsin and Madison attorney A. Steven Porter brought the suit on behalf of Michael Kissick, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. In the past Kissick sometimes participated in demonstrations inside the Capitol, including the Solidarity Sing Along.
Kissick ceased exercising his First Amendment rights inside the Capitol in September 2012, when police began arresting and citing people who exercised free speech there without a permit. In July, U.S. District Judge William M. Conley ordered the state to stop enforcing the permit rules for small groups. Last month, Magistrate Judge Peter Oppeneer held a mediation session between the parties, resulting in the settlement.
“I’m happy because this agreement allows the Solidarity Sing Along to continue as it always has,” Kissick said. “The group has effectively been giving the state notice all along, and has always deferred to events with permits.”