UNFREE ASSEMBLY

Eugene Volokh and Matthew Yglesias discuss reports that the Secret Service is excluding protestors from large areas around President Bush’s speeches. Says Eugene:

If pro-Bush speakers were indeed treated differently from anti-Bush ones, that would certainly be unconstitutional, whether this was done on the streets or on USF property. But even if all protesters were equally excluded, that too would probably be a First Amendment violation. While the government may sometimes impose bubble zones for various reasons, including security, requiring that protesters be 1/2 mile away seems to me quite overbroad for that purpose. Other requirements, such as a smaller bubble zone, or a limit on the number of people who can be present at the rally, might well be permissible. But a total exclusion from such a wide zone is unconstitutional. For a related, though obviously not identical, case, see United States v. Grace (1983), which struck down an ordinance that prohibited protests on the sidewalks outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

Says Matthew:

[I]t seems worth pointing out that this is wrong, even if a legal justification can be ginned-up somewhere. The purpose, pretty clearly, is to make it harder for Bush opponents to piggy-back onto the inevitable free media coverage that follows in the wake of any presidential speech.

Agreed.

This is a longstanding practice. The same thing was happening at Bush 41 campaign stops in 1992. People weren’t allowed to carry anti-Bush or pro-Clinton signs in. I never attended a Clinton rally, but suspect they acted in a similar manner.

What I don’t know is whether this is the Secret Service acting on its own initiative–figuring that these people are inherently more dangerous than pro-current president folks–or if it’s something the campaign is tasking the Secret Service to do. Either way, it’s bad policy.

Among the more insightful comments comes from a rather unlikely source:

Redner, a strip club owner, said he understood that the Secret Service must do its job, “But if someone wanted to kill the president, I think I’d go with a sign saying ‘I love the president.'”

No joke.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John says:

    Actually, I don’t agree with Matthew. It’s not so much the publicity of the message – they don’t care about the message. They care about image. It’s just good image to have the protesters carefully sheltered away from the press. Thus the administration gets to show the MidWest that absolutely no one is protesting them. Everything is fine. And it’s wrong no matter if the administration is democratic or republican.

  2. Matthew says:

    Perhaps the “courtesy bubble” between the president’s supporters and protestors should be 25 feet, the same as most buffer zones around abortion clinics.

  3. John says:

    Yea, I’m sure those anti-protesters have a history of shooting people like the pro-lifers do. Bombs, too. (BTW, funny post about invading Liberia. I want to know how we’re going to pay for it, too.)

  4. Matthew says:

    John, some distance between the president’s supporters and his opponents is reasonable for the purposes of safety and order, and I’m only half-kidding when I suggest 25 feet. Half a mile is ridiculous, though, and violates the protestor’s first amendment rights.

    BTW, most pro-lifers have no desire to shoot or bomb anyone, and their idea of getting overzealous is to stage a sit-in. Bubble zones have nothing to do with violent action on the part of anti-abortion protestors, but rather address this tendency towards civil disobedience.

  5. John says:

    Just kidding with you to make a point. 😉

  6. Paul says:

    When Al Gore came to my area to campain the local college Republicans were pushed a mile or more away behind dumpsters. When they complained they were arrested.

    I never heard any liberals complaining then.

    NOW- having said that I am not in love with the policy.

    BUT it should be noted that while most people (I think) would agree that 1/2 mile is too far, I bet most people would say that 2500 feet sounded reasonable. It is basically the same number just sold differently.

    P

  7. John Lemon says:

    Folks, having a right to free speech doesn’t entitle you to have a right to free speech anywhere you damn well please. The issue isn’t 1/4 mile or 25 feet since there will always be somebody whining that they weren’t allowed to share the same podium at the same time with the same cameras pointed at them.

    The free speech part of the 1st Ammendment has been twisted so much since the 1960s — to the point of intolerable silliness. Someone really needs to explain to me how free speech is being violated when perverts aren’t allowed to view porn on a library computer when there are children only a few feet away. (Librarians in my city have actually used that argument to keep porn filters off of library computers.)

    The two paragraphs above are logically linked if you just think about it a bit.

  8. Hey. We’re just a little sensitive about the idea of our pictures of the Leader of the Free World having an element of “whitewash” to them. There’s just a point at which what’s appropriate starts to feel like . . . what’s a little oppressive. What that point is, exactly, is hard to pinpoint. It’s like figuring out that exact moment when the milk has turned–or is about to turn.

    I’d rather us be debating this and erring on the side of free speech.

    That said, Dr. Lemon is the man.

  9. John says:

    What an amazing pair.

  10. Why John–thank you. They’re even better in person.

    😉