Last week we told you about a group of activists who were suing the City of Dallas, claiming they're being illegally barred from participating in a protest during SMU's dedication this week of the new George W. Bush Presidential Center. On Friday, noting a "strong public interest in the freedom of expression, especially as it relates to protest speech," U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis ruled in their favor. Which is handy, because the four-day-long protest-stravaganza, dubbed "The People's Reponse," kicked off at 9:30 this morning.
According to their complaint, Dallas PD told the six protesters they'd be cited if they held signs with 75 feet of the frontage road running along Central Expressway; when they held a preliminary protest and did just that, with signs that said things like, "I Love the First Amendment," they were all written citations. Some were actually cited for the no-sign-carrying ordinance, while others were given tickets for "solicitation" (i.e., panhandling, although they hadn't been).
In his ruling, Solis wrote that the city needs to demonstrate that it has "some meaningful interest in more stringent regulation of traffic at or near the sidewalk of Expressway Tower." In that, he decided, they've failed (although he did grant their motion to keep the suit in federal court, rather than kicking it back down to the state level).
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Dallas, Solis wrote, "has failed to demonstrate any need to regulate signs and other displays at or near the proposed protest venue as strictly as outlined in the Ordinance." Because the city couldn't demonstrate "even a minimal need to regulate First Amendment activity," Solis found that the protesters have a "substantial likelihood of success" in their suit.
Solis also issued a preliminary ruling that the entire sign-carrying-near-freeways ordinance is "unconstitionally vague and therefore void." He noted that Chief Shedd of the DPD, who's supposed to enforce the ordinance, demonstrated "noticeable discomfort and confusion" when asked to weigh in on hypothetical situations dealing with signs along Central.
And so, DPD officers are temporarily enjoined for the next four days from issuing citations under that sign-carrying ordinance "to any and all protestors bearing signs on the sidewalks within the area donated by SMU, including Expressway Tower."
Hadi Jawad, one of the organizers of the People's Response, told the Dallas Morning News that as an activist, he's gotten used to losing a lot of battles. "But this is a good day for Dallas and the citizens of Dallas and the Constitution," he added. "It's a fantastic feeling."