As the Ashcroft Justice Department and local police forces
try to criminalize dissent, progressives in the legal
community have fought pro-actively to defend our rights to
speech and assembly. The following press release and media
coverage details a major free speech victory in
Philadephia stemming from a lawsuit filed by the
Partnership for Civil Justice and the National Lawyers
Guild on behalf of the International Action Center. All
three groups have worked with the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
since its inception.
MAJOR VICTORY FOR FREE SPEECH RIGHTS
- Philadelphia's Unconstitutional Permitting Scheme Taken
- Youth Curfew Lifted for First Amendment Activities
*See below for media coverage*
A constitutional rights lawsuit resulted in a major free
speech victory for political activists who seek to protest
in Philadelphia. On the eve of trial, which was scheduled
for July 7, the City of Philadelphia agreed to the entry
of a Court Order in Federal District Court providing the
relief demanded by activists and their attorneys. The City
of Philadelphia can no longer use its discretionary
protest permitting scheme, challenged as unconstitutional.
The lawsuit also resulted in barring the Philadelphia
police from using a "youth curfew" to arrest, or threaten
to arrest, youth who are engaging in their First Amendment
protected rights of speech and assembly.
The case, International Action Center v. City of
Philadelphia, et al., was litigated by the Partnership for
Civil Justice and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG).
"This victory for people's rights came about because
attorneys and activists initiated a struggle in the courts
and in the streets against the illegal abrogation of free
speech rights," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder
of the Partnership for Civil Justice and NLG attorney who
litigated the case. "This unconstitutional permitting
process had festered in Philadelphia for years. The time
was long overdue for the system to be taken down."
"This is a victory for the activist community in
Philadelphia and protects and promotes the rights of
anyone who wants to demonstrate in Philadelphia in the
future," stated Joseph Traub, NLG attorney who was
co-counsel on the litigation.
"For too long, activists seeking to exercise their
fundamental First Amendment rights in Philadelphia have
been obstructed and denied those rights. The City has used
unfettered discretion to grant use of the people's parks
and streets to favored permittees like the Republican
National Convention, and either denied permits to those
who challenge government policies or tried to broker
inadequate and unequal access to public space," added Ms.
This significant free speech lawsuit was originally filed
on behalf of activists who were organizing a two-day vigil
in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal at City Hall and were told
by the City of Philadelphia that their permit application
was rejected. After an emergency hearing resulting in a
Court Order in May 2001, which required the City to grant
the permit and allowed the demonstration to go forward,
free speech advocates pursued the case with an Amended
Complaint in order to strike Philadelphia's illegal
permitting scheme and challenge the youth ordinance. The
matter has been litigated in Federal District Court for
the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The Partnership for Civil Justice is a public interest law
firm based in Washington DC that litigates civil rights
and constitutional rights cases, many on behalf of
political activists for social justice.
Founded in 1937 as the nation's first racially integrated
association of attorneys, the National Lawyers Guild
brings together lawyers, law students, legal workers and
jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective political
and social force in the service of the people, to the end
that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than
property interests. http://www.nlg.org
The International Action Center, initiated in 1992 by
former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and other
anti-war activists, works to end racism, sexism, and
poverty in the U.S. as well as U.S. militarism and
exploitative domination around the world.
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER ARTICLE:
July 8, 2003
Settlement reached in federal lawsuit over demonstrations
Officials were accused of selectively following laws
closely to dissuade groups from protesting.
By Joseph A. Slobodzian
Inquirer Staff Writer
Philadelphia officials yesterday agreed not to use city
regulations to dissuade members of controversial political
groups and causes from holding public demonstrations.
The federal court agreement settles a two-year-old lawsuit
filed on behalf of supporters of convicted police killer
Mumia Abu-Jamal who claimed officials were trying to block
their 48-hour vigil and "symbolic tent city" on Dilworth
Plaza outside City Hall.
"We consider this an important First Amendment victory,"
said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer for the
pro-Abu-Jamal International Action Center, of yesterday's
For the full article, go to:
PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS ARTICLE:
July 8, 2003
City agrees to abandon march-permit process
By Jim Smith
Over the years in Philadelphia, protesters often found it
difficult to get city permission to demonstrate or march.
To the protesters, the explanation was simple: if the city
fathers didn't like their "cause," they simply refused to
issue a permit and hoped the demonstrators would throw in
The times may finally be changing.
On the eve of a trial that raised constitutional
challenges to the city's practice of denying permits, the
Street administration has agreed to abandon the old way
while trying to come up with a new approach.
"We think it's an enormous victory for political activists
in Philadelphia," said attorney Mara Verheyden-Hillard,
referring to the settlement of a two-year lawsuit.
Working in Washington, D.C. for the National Lawyers Guild
and Partnership for Civil Justice, she sued Mayor Street
and other officials two years ago.
For the full article, go to:
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