Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Right To Peaceably Assemble

From the Miami Herald:

Civil-rights attorneys are challenging a new set of state laws that establish a crime of “mob intimidation” and enhance penalties for riot-related violence and looting, arguing in a federal lawsuit that the measures unconstitutionally “seek to arrest the peaceful expression of free speech.”

The challenge was filed Wednesday, two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial package (HB 1), one of his top legislative priorities. The governor laid out a framework for the legislation in September in response to nationwide protests after the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Republican lawmakers gave final approval to the changes last week, ignoring objections by Democrats and civil-rights groups that predicted the proposal would be challenged in court. A nonprofit organization known as the Lawyers Matter Task Force and other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in federal court in Orlando, naming as defendants DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Orange County Sheriff John Mina.

The legislation “is a horrendous injustice to Florida citizens and infringes on multiple constitutional rights,” Shannon Ligon, founder of the Lawyers Matter Task Force, said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

The laws, among other things, create a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting” that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of “mob intimidation,” which makes it unlawful “for a person, assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.”

But the plaintiffs allege the laws expose “peaceful demonstrators and social justice advocacy organizations to civil and/or criminal liability” for other people’s conduct.

The laws also fail “to adequately describe what conduct or speech will subject an individual or an organization to liability for ‘inciting a riot,’ ” the lawsuit said.

The measures “target protected speech under the First Amendment” and “retaliate against” protesters by imposing “excessive bail, fines, or cruel and unusual punishment as a means of hindering the speech of dissenting opinions,” Orlando lawyer Aaron Carter Bates, who represents the plaintiffs, wrote in the 22-page lawsuit.

The legislation “unconstitutionally threatens to impose liability on individuals expressing their rights to free speech regardless of their intent to incite violence, the likelihood that their speech will result in violence, or the imminence of the intended violence,” Bates wrote.

From the relevant passage in the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The U.S. Constitution has supremacy, which means that it supersedes state and local laws, including state constitutions.  It means that states cannot enact laws that violate the Big One.  There’s no provision in the bill to provide for the funds to pay for the legal fees that will be borne by the taxpayers of Florida that have already been incurred and will pile up as it goes from court to court.

There is no doubt whatsoever that law is just part of Ron DeSantis’s plan to run for president in 2024 — he’s been getting serviced by pundits and Very Serious People at Politico — and solidify his hold on the rabble base that has no problem running over a protestor with their Buick.


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