By Austin Nolen
The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign filed a First Amendment lawsuit today against the City of Philadelphia. American Civil Liberties Union attorneys will represent the claimants in this case.
PPEHRC claims the city violated their rights by refusing to grant a permit for a march down South Broad Street during the Democratic National Convention.
In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, attorneys assert that the City has denied permits for marches in Center City between 3pm and 6pm during the Convention. Yet the City frequently closes Center City streets during these times for non-political events.
The ACLU for this reason claims a ban on protest permits during this specific time discriminates against protesters and violates the First Amendment.
According to ACLU of Pennsylvania Deputy Director Mary Catherine Roper, “Protest should be as visible during this Convention week as the party politics are,” not relegated to FDR Park in South Philly.
The City Managing Director’s Office initially denied PPEHRC’s permit because it would “unnecessarily interfere” with traffic and because another group had already reserved the same route on the same day.
However, according to Roper, the ACLU is unaware of any other protest scheduled at the same time and location as PPEHRC’s.
City officials also initially banned any marches on South Broad Street during certain hours. They later rescinded the Broad Street ban, but kept restrictions against marches in Center City at between 3pm and 6pm.
This is not the first time First Amendment concerns have been raised in anticipation of the 2016 Convention.
The City has yet to grant demonstration permits to some groups months after they’ve applied. Roper expressed concern over the fact that the City has taken such a long time to grant or deny these permissions.
An attorney with Philadelphia’s Law Department attributed the delay to “deficiencies” in the permit applications. The City must resolve these deficiencies before granting the permits.
The City under normal conditions doesn’t require demonstrators to apply for permits at all. The ACLU claims City officials have yet to confirm this policy will hold during the Convention.
Mayor Jim Kenney told the Philadelphia Inquirer that protesters who have not obtained permits would “probably not” be arrested.
Relatedly, the Secret Service will build a fence between FDR Park and the Wells Fargo Center where most Convention-related activity will take place.
A Secret Service spokesperson declined to provide the Inquirer with details about this fence, but claimed it won’t break the line of sight between FDR and the Fargo Center.
Roper said the ACLU will file a motion to expedite the lawsuit by the PPEHRC against the City. She believes that the court will issue a final ruling before the convention begins on July 25th.
A spokesperson for the city declined to comment on the lawsuit and was not immediately able to respond for a request for comment on permit issues more generally.
View the complaint in Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign v. City of Philadelphia and the letter denying PPEHRC’s permit application below:
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