Judge Rules Suit over Free Speech Rights of Marchers Can Go Forward

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

On March 14, 2006, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that the ACLU of Washington lawsuit on behalf of the October 22 Coalition, a group that opposes police brutality, can go to trial. The lawsuit challenges the actions of Seattle Police officers who told the demonstrators that their parade permit was "rescinded" only moments before their march was scheduled to begin. The City had granted the Coalition a parade permit to march from Seattle Central Community College to Hing Hay Park, but the Seattle Police Department arbitrarily barred protesters from marching in the streets and forced them to use the sidewalks only. The case is scheduled to go to trial on May 1.

The judge found that the ACLU had raised sufficient questions to warrant a trial about whether the October 22 Coalition's parade was forced off the streets because the police disagreed with its message. "A reasonable juror could conclude that the on-the-spot decision to force the marchers onto the sidewalk was motivated by the content of their message," he wrote. The evidence the jury will consider includes the actions of the police on the day in question, and the city's long-standing practice of placing more onerous limitations on parades by political dissenters than on other types of parades.

The court was not persuaded by the city's arguments that the October 22 parade could not be allowed onto the street because it was getting dark, was raining, and was near rush hour. The city knew in advance that the parade was scheduled for 5 p.m. on a date in late October, when conditions relating to weather, darkness, and traffic were well known. The opinion chided the city for "the apparently widespread practice of modifying parade permits as participants are gathering in the streets, based on conditions that were foreseeable at the time the permit was first issued."

The October 22 Coalition is represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Michael Ryan and Christopher Varas and by Staff Attorney Aaron Caplan.