Peace Activists at Center of Bush Library Protests Are Suing Dallas for Stifling Speech

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Thumbnail image for BushCheneyProtestArrest.jpg
Occupy Dallas
The most memorable scene from April's protest against the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center came when two men wearing comically large Bush/Cheney masks were handcuffed and marched to the back of a squad car. An overreaction, perhaps, but not a huge miscarriage of justice. They had wandered into the Central Expressway service road and didn't immediately obey cops' orders to return to the sidewalk.

Otherwise, police kept their handcuffs and ticket books sheathed, thanks in part to a temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis barring the city of Dallas from enforceing its ordinance banning people from holding signs within 75 feet of a highway or service road during the Bush Center opening.

In court, the city denied that it had any such plans, but the plaintiffs in the case -- veteran activists Paul Heller, Leslie Harris, Deborah Beltran, Gary Staurd, Diane Baker, and Mavis Belisle -- had good reason to be afraid. Three months before, they had all received citations for holding political signs (e.g. "I ♥ the Bill of Rights" and "I love the First Amendment") at the intersection of Central Expressway and Mockingbird Lane.

See also: Two Protesters Wearing Giant Bush-Cheney Masks Were Arrested Outside SMU Today

But the temporary restraining order was just that -- temporary. It did nothing to address their misdemeanor charges, which the city was continuing to prosecute in municipal court, and it did nothing about the sign-holding ordinance, which the activists claim is an unconstitutional limit on free speech.

With that in mind, Heller and his fellow plaintiffs have again taken the city to court, this time with their ultimate goal stated more explicitly. Rather than just seeking the right to protest at a single event, they're bent on having the entire ordinance overturned.

See also: Peace Activists Can Protest the New Bush Center, Judge Rules, So Off They Go

Their argument is appealingly simple. Holding a political sign on a public sidewalk is the very definition of speech protected by the First Amendment. The city's rationale for passing and enforcing the ordinance -- that such signs constitute a threat to public safety because they distract drivers -- doesn't pass the smell test given that it doesn't apply to billboards, for-lease banners and other signs that litter the highway.

They're confident that a judge will feel the same way. They point to Solis' restraining order, which came after a day-long evidentiary hearing and found that DPD had failed to demonstrate that it has "some meaningful interest" in more strictly regulating traffic on the Central service road.

They hoped this might have been the outcome of their initial lawsuit, but they say the city's legal shenanigans got in the way. The activists initially filed their suit in state court, only to have the city succeed in having it removed to the federal level. Then, after the restraining order was issued, the city decided to go along with the activists and kick it back down to state court. Once there the city's attorneys moved to have it dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The activists withdrew their state court case on Tuesday. Federal court, they say in their suit, offers a better "forum to fully ventilate their First Amendment challenges"

We spoke briefly to Heller, who referred questions about the case to Meg Penrose, a Texas A&M law school professor and one of the attorneys representing the six activists. We've emailed her and will update when we hear back.


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21 comments
roadsidecouch
roadsidecouch

It is 2013 and it is still Bush's fault.  Never mind the current idiot in the White House.

peaceseeker
peaceseeker

The fact is the ordinance is far too vague and over reaching.  It fails to define signage, which could target anything from a SMU t-shirt, to a baseball cap with your favorite team name & logo or God forbid your Coach bag!  It is also worth saying that the ordinance is seldom used except when it is used to repress political speech. Something explicitly guaranteed by the first amendment. Some here fail to get the point. There should be no "free speech zones" in this country or any other for that matter.  The fact that six people stood their ground for what America is suppose to represent is admirable!  Especially in the current climate of eroding civil liberties. 

"Democracy does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice" - Howard Zinn 

peaceseeker
peaceseeker

Enemployed - ?????  Tea-bagger talk for........

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

I drove past there everyday when this was going on, they are a distraction drivers, thus for drivers safety should be confined to a area to protest. I also one of these protesting buffoons step in front of my car and nearly hit them when they had no walk signal. I dislike the city of Dallas, but this one, I will step up for them.

I support protestors, but they also lose there darn mind

DallasErin
DallasErin

Not sure why this would be a City of Dallas issue anyway. Isn't the library and that side of Central in University Park? Or are they using Dallas services to protect against free speech too?

schermbeck
schermbeck

@whocareswhatithink Sorry, the 1st Amendment doesn't recognize official "protest areas." I guess you never read the billboards along Central either.....

WylieH
WylieH

The library and Center are in U.P. The east side of Central is Dallas. The only place where U.P. extends across Central is further north, starting a few feet north of Dyer and extending to University Blvd.--- this is the area U.P. uses as its service facility for trash trucks, etc.

WatchingSouthDetroit
WatchingSouthDetroit

@truthtalk @ericrapesbabies When all those people decided to sit around Dallas city hall protesting something, I was wondering and asked what they were protesting.   I heard things such as campaign finance reform, wanting jobs, and economic inequality.

Since it was November at the time, I wondered why those people didn't get a Christmas season job at a retail store, or at the post office, or at UPS.  I heard excuses such as: the jobs didn't pay enough, the people didn't want to work weekends, the people didn't want to work 2nd or 3rd shift, the people didn't want start at the entry levels available - they wanted higher level jobs right from the start.

In other words - unemployed, unemployable, lazy, whining, and entitled.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@truthtalk @ericrapesbabies  

That does raise the question, where do they get the funds to support this activity?


After all, where did the oversize caricature masks come from?  How are they able to be able to devote this amount of time to this activity?  What else do they do in their lives?

Mind you, I actually support their activities for the furtherance of free speech.  Some folks here would probably think that I am sort of neocon troglodyte, knuckle dragging Obamahater (OK, I don't care much for Obama and I think that Shrub was awful, but my knuckles do not drag when I walk).

I always find the back story on people such as this to be quite fascinating.  Sort of like the 25 year old couple who bought the rundown almost ruined former mansion on Swiss Avenue who are "fixing it up" because they fell in love with and the wife thought that it would be so "cute".  Of course the story leaves out that this young couple are multimillionaires as Pappaw funded some sort of start  up company for them.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@schermbeck @whocareswhatithink SCOTUS does place restrictions on Free Speech: Proper time, place and manner.  The billboards along Central don't walk out into traffic and don't obscure vision along cross streets at intersections.  You won't find any commercial signage where the protestors were at because the City code specifically forbids signage being placed in the 'visibility triangle', you know, for safety and stuff.

James080
James080

@schermbeck @whocareswhatithink  

Billboards are well above driver's eye level and don't obscure crossing traffic at intersections. Let the a$$ holes protest when ever they want, but they should stay out of the street and away from intersections. 

Of course, let's be honest, they wanted to be arrested. They will push any envelope to be arrested, because that's the only way they can make the news. What were there, 20 of them? In an area with 2 million residents. Not hardly a quorum. the needed the publicity to validate their actions.

truthtalk
truthtalk

@RTGolden1 @schermbeck @whocareswhatithin

...yeah and that approach says a lot about what SCoTUS thinks about the constitution...but on the issue; if street visibility was such a big issue, trees and buildings and shrubs all over the city would have been knocked down a long time ago.  The real reason folk are saying the protesters blocked motorist vision is because it sounds like a possibly good reason to criticize the effort. I'll bet few Dallasites would have anything bad to say about the protest if it had been a support Bush effort. As a matter of fact there would probably have been a line of folk that day causing traffic jams and accidents because they wanted to congratulate the protesters. Some folk are so hypocritical about stuff like this...and there are so many folk who feel the need to stroke the shrub here in Dallas...

truthtalk
truthtalk

@RTGolden1 @schermbeck @whocareswhatithink

...yeah and that approach says a lot about what SCoTUS thinks about the constitution...but on the issue; if street visibility was such a big issue, trees and buildings and shrubs all over the city would have been knocked down a long time ago.  The real reason folk are saying the protesters blocked motorist vision is because it sounds like a possibly good reason to criticize the effort. I'll bet few Dallasites would have anything bad to say about the protest if it had been a support Bush effort. As a matter of fact there would probably have been a line of folk that day causing traffic jams and accidents because they wanted to congratulate the protesters. Some folk are so hypocritical about stuff like this...and there are so many folk who feel the need to stroke the shrub here in Dallas...

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