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DOJ: First Amendment Protects Peaceful Protests

The Justice Department is invoking the First Amendment--and the peaceful protests of George Floyd's murder--to support peaceful protest assemblies in the time of COVID-19, specifically a gathering to protest COVID-19-related restrictions in California.

The Justice Department has filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the Ninth Circuit in support of Ron Givens and Christine Bish, who are suing the State of California because they want to hold a protest with 500-1,000 people on the grounds of the State Capitol Building. 

Justice said a district court was wrong to to side with the plaintiffs against what DOJ said it's the state's "total ban on peaceful protests." 

"While States have broad authority to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Amendment does not give them carte blanche to ban peaceful public protests and rallies," Justice told the court. 

DOJ actually cited the George Floyd peaceful protests--the ones that got a little less so after the Attorney General had protesters moved to increase the perimeter around the White House. 

"[T]he real and legitimate national outcry over George Floyd’s tragic killing has shown the importance of peaceful public protests to maintaining our civic fabric—and has highlighted the extreme nature of a blanket protest ban in California," DOJ said.  

“Political speech in traditional public gathering spaces is at the core of the First Amendment’s protection of speech and assembly,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of DOJ's Civil Rights Division.  

Givens is a firearms instructor in Sacramento who is protesting delays in background checks "purportedly due to COVID-19," said Justice. Bish a Republican candidate for the House who wants to protest the state's handling of the coronavirus response. 

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.