Judge refuses to change protest route for RNCby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
A federal judge has denied a group of protesters' request for a new march route during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. A coalition of anti-Iraqi war demonstrators asked to nearly encircle the Xcel Energy center on the first day of the RNC. But U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen said the court couldn't blind itself to the daunting security concerns facing the City during the RNC. The judge did not set a time of day for the march but did say protesters had no constitutional right to physical access to the delegates.
St. Paul, Minn. — The anti-war protesters had asked for a route that would run from the state Capitol down John Ireland Blvd, down Kellogg Blvd and around the the Xcel Center.
But Judge Ericksen sided with St. Paul city officials who said that route would endanger the safety of delegates and high-ranking government officials. She said the Secret Service must consider "terrorist attacks, lone gunmen, fire, chemical or biological attacks, detonation of explosive devices and suicide bombers."
The judge said the current route which travels down West Seventh will still put the protesters within 84 feet of the center's primary entrances. But she also said the route would leave access for emergency vehicles and space if the arena needs to be evacuated.
St. Paul City Attorney John Choi said the ruling affirmed what the city had maintained all along -- that it had a struck a balance between First Amendment rights and convention security.
"It provides that third party validation of really the incredible work that's been going on in planning this," he said. "And also the values the city has had from the very outset, which is to respect everybody's right to express themselves in terms of their speech."
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman issued a statement agreeing. Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Matt Bostrom also issued a statement that called the judge's ruling "a step forward" in being ready for the convention.
But attorneys for the protesters were not pleased.
"We're disappointed in the decision," said Teresa Nelson, who represents the American Civil Liberties Union.
"To a certain extent this decision weakens the First Amendment," she said. "You know, it seems like all the government really needs to do is raise security concerns, raise the spector of security and that's going to be enough to justify just about any march route that the city wants."
Nelson said she wishes the judge had specified the time of day for the march. The judge left the time open for the city and the protesters to decide. She did say that police and the city were under no obligation to protesters "to maximize the opportunities for physical confrontation with conventioneers."
Protesters wanted to march 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., presumably to increase the chances of exposure to delegates and the national press. The city wanted them to clear the area near the Xcel at 3 pm.
Both sides say they have no plans yet to meet. The protesters say they have not decided whether they'll appeal Ericksen's ruling.
- All Things Considered, 07/16/2008, 5:21 p.m.