Free Speech




Friday, February 10, 2012  

CONTACT: Alessandra Soler Meetze, ACLU of Arizona, at 602-301-3705 (cell)

PHOENIX –   In a letter sent today to the chair of a state legislative committee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona demanded that committee members revamp recently-adopted rules giving top lawmakers the authority to severely limit the right to protest on Capitol grounds, saying the regulations violate people’s constitutional right to express themselves and petition their elected officials.
“These new rules will make it impossible for people to be seen and heard anywhere near the Capitol,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona.  “Government can’t simply regulate away people’s First Amendment rights. All Arizonans have a fundamental right to protest the actions of policymakers and elected officials should be embracing public expression rather than trying to silence it.”    

At issue are new regulations, adopted by the Legislative Council of the Arizona Legislature, that require all groups, regardless of how large or small, to obtain a permit ten days prior to organizing any events in front of the Capitol.  The rules apply to all activities, including protests, press conferences, vigils, religious services, or marches, “engaged in by one or more persons.”

In his two-page letter to House Speaker Andrew Tobin, chairman of the Legislative Council, ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda argues that permitting requirements must be limited to large groups and cannot include “unjustifiably long” waiting periods. He cites several cases where the courts have struck down similar restrictions that apply to all groups, regardless of size, and impose advance permit requirements. Even a five-day advance notice requirement was struck down because the court found that it was unjustifiably long and applied to groups as small as 10.

“Under these new rules, two people who want to carry signs protesting a bill in front of the Capitol would have to obtain a permit 10 days in advance, which is completely unworkable because sometimes bills can pass in a matter of days,” added Pochoda.  “Such arbitrary restrictions are unreasonable in any public forum, and they are particularly disfavored when they cut off people’s access to government representatives as these regulations do.”

Adding to the constitutional concerns, the regulations allow the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate to carve out an exception to the application process for large groups gathering to further “a substantial security or historical purpose.” And because there are no standards outlining how the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate would make this determination, the expectation is that certain “historical” messages will be favored over others.

“To allow an exception for these events and not smaller gatherings that involve less public resources and preparations demonstrates the arbitrary nature of these regulations as time, place and manner restrictions,” wrote Pochoda.

The Capitol Grounds Regulations were approved by the Legislative Council in January.  The Legislative Council is a unique legislative group that consists of members of the Arizona House and Senate. The Council has legal authority over the grounds at the Capitol. For this reason, when the Council passes regulations concerning the Capitol grounds, those regulations do not need to be approved by the House or the Senate or signed into law by the Governor.

The new rules come on the heels of the February 2011 arrests of activists Salvador Reza and Anayanse Diana Garza as they attempted to enter the Senate to meet with a legislator.  Former Senate President Russell Pearce ordered Reza banned from the building after a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on several controversial immigration bills that Pearce was sponsoring. 

Read the ACLU of Arizona’s demand letter.

Read the new regulations.