State Regulations Changed to No Longer Block Solicitation During Demonstrations
ANNAPOLIS – Heartened that an unconstitutional free speech restriction at Lawyer’s Mall will be lifted for those engaging in free speech activities aimed at legislators and the governor, several Anne Arundel-based activist groups today announced a settlement in their case that successfully challenged a Maryland regulation that prohibited soliciting donations and political support at the iconic location. The groups – March on Maryland, Anne Arundel County Indivisible Coalition, Caucus of African American Leaders, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Committee – were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland.
“It is imperative that we stay vigilant when it comes to our First Amendment rights, especially in the current political climate,” said Eve Hurwitz, Director of March on Maryland. “I am grateful for the assistance and support of my fellow activists and the ACLU for being our champion. Hopefully, we do not have to take legal action like this again to protect our community’s right to free speech.”
The settlement amount of $96,000 will compensate the groups for fundraising they were not allowed to do at Lawyer’s Mall, in addition to reimburse litigation fees and costs incurred when the State refused to alter the regulation voluntarily, unnecessarily forcing the groups to file suit in order to bring it into compliance with the Constitution.
In Fall 2017, the Anne Arundel groups experienced two instances when the unconstitutional regulation limited their right to solicit support. First, March on Maryland and Indivisible organized a March for Racial Justice in Annapolis and were blocked from selling tickets during the rally to the Fannie Lou Hamer Awards dinner scheduled for later that day in Annapolis. Second, March on Maryland, Anne Arundel County Indivisible, and the Caucus of African American Leaders sought to organize a candlelight vigil for victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas and to raise funds to help cover medical costs for a victim from Anne Arundel County. However, they were blocked from doing so by Department of General Services (DGS) police, citing rules prohibiting solicitation on state grounds.
“We are thrilled that this settlement will help ensure that no one’s civil liberties are compromised at the state’s foremost public square,” said Carl Snowden, Convenor of the Caucus of African American Leaders. “The DGS regulations were an unacceptable abridgment of the public's freedom of speech rights.”
During the 2018 General Assembly session, the ACLU wrote to DGS asking them to voluntarily cease enforcement of the rule, but DGS officials refused, claiming the rule was enforceable, while not disputing the ACLU’s legal analysis. The lawsuit was filed in March, and it noted that constitutional speech protections are at their highest in areas that the public historically and traditionally has used to engage in the sharing of ideas and information. Graced by a statue of constitutional hero Thurgood Marshall, Lawyers’ Mall historically has served as an open forum for public use in statehouse demonstrations, protests and gatherings, and thus is clearly a “traditional public forum” that allows the broadest free expression. In addition, the Supreme Court long ago ruled that political soliciting and solicitation of monetary donations constitute protected speech under the First Amendment. Yet both were prohibited by the DGS rule.
"Plainly, it shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit for the State to recognize and protect the free speech rights of its residents at a quintessential gathering place for speakers like Lawyers’ Mall, but the State chose here to force the matter into court,” said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. “Today, we celebrate the efforts of the Annapolis activists who stood up for the Constitution in the face of State opposition, and secured protection for all Marylanders through this settlement.”
Plaintiffs March on Maryland Inc., Anne Arundel County Indivisible Coalition, the Caucus of African American Leaders, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, Eve Hurwitz, Monica Lindsey, Yasemin Jamison, Vickie Gipson, and Carl Snowden are represented by William R. Stein and Tabitha Bartholomew of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, and by Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland.