July 8, 2003
Philadelphia's Unconstitutional Permitting Scheme Taken Down
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. Verheyden-Hilliard.
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. http://www.civil-rights.net
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 settlement.
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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 towel.
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.
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