Supreme Court Ruling Restricts Mass Protest Rights in Three States

Supreme Court Ruling Restricts Mass Protest Rights in Three States

DEBARYLIFE – On Monday, the Supreme Court declared that Mckesson v. Doe will not be heard. The lower court ruling that essentially abolished the ability to plan large-scale protests in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas remains in effect as a result of the decision not to hear Mckesson.

If even one person participating in a large-scale protest breaks the law, the organizers of that rally could suffer catastrophic financial consequences, according to the ruling of the lower court.

This result may be just transitory. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s ruling undermining the First Amendment right to protest was not upheld by the Court, but it was also not overturned. This implies that much of the American South is now bound by the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

The Fifth Circuit has been fighting against DeRay Mckesson, a well-known member of the Black Lives Matter movement, for several years. In 2016, McKesson led a protest outside a Baton Rouge police station.

Regretfully, the Mckesson case’s facts are quite tragic. Following Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of the police, McKesson assisted in planning the protest in Baton Rouge. A rock or other similar device was thrown at “Officer John Doe,” the plaintiff in the McKesson lawsuit, by an unidentified person during that protest. Sadly, the cop took a blow to the face and sustained “injuries to his teeth, jaw, brain, and head,” according to a court report.

Supreme Court Ruling Restricts Mass Protest Rights in Three States (2)

But everyone knows that McKesson did not toss this rock. Furthermore, in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware (1982), the Supreme Court ruled that protest organizers cannot be held accountable for the violent acts of a protestor unless there are special circumstances—like in the Mckesson case, where Mckesson had “authorized, directed, or ratified” the decision to throw the rock. These circumstances are not present in this case.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor notes in a succinct opinion that accompanies the Court’s ruling not to hear Mckesson, the Court has already upheld the robust First Amendment rights that individuals such as Mckesson enjoy in Counterman v. Colorado (2023). According to that ruling, inciting violence is not punishable under the First Amendment “unless the speaker’s words were ‘intended’ (not just likely to produce imminent disorder).”

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It should be clear why Claiborne defends protest organizers. Whether the event is a music concert, a political protest, or the Super Bowl, no one can feasibly control the behavior of thousands of guests while organizing a huge gathering. Therefore, no one in their right mind would ever organize a political protest again if protest organizers were held accountable for any participant’s criminal actions.

Supreme Court Ruling Restricts Mass Protest Rights in Three States (3)

and how it intensified the Cold War between the US and China.

As Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett said in one of his dissents, his court’s ruling would hold protest planners accountable for “the unlawful acts of counter-protesters and agitators.” Willett did not agree with the McKesson ruling. Thus, a Ku Klux Klansman could undermine the Black Lives Matter movement by attending its demonstrations and hurling stones, according to the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

Similar to McKesson, Claiborne participated in a racial justice demonstration with some individuals who used violence. The NAACP began a boycott of white businesses in Mississippi’s Claiborne County in the middle of the 1960s. At least some of the boycott’s participants “engaged in acts of physical force and violence against the persons and property of certain customers and prospective customers” of these white firms, according to the state supreme court.

In actuality, one of the boycott’s organizers encouraged violence considerably more than Mckesson is alleged to have done in his instance. In an address to boycott supporters, Charles Evers, a local NAACP official, allegedly threatened to break someone’s neck “if we catch any of you going in any of them racist stores.”

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However, this “emotionally charged rhetoric… did not transcend the bounds of protected speech,” according to the Supreme Court. It decided that before placing any type of culpability on a political figure, courts had to use “extreme care.” Additionally, it decided that a protest leader may only be accountable for a demonstrator’s acts under extremely specific conditions:

Three different arguments could support Evers’s liability for other people’s illegal actions. First, it would be appropriate to hold him accountable for the outcomes of any specific tortious behavior if it could be shown that he approved, oversaw, or approved of it. Second, it might be justified to hold him accountable for illegal actions that transpired within a reasonable time frame if it was determined that his comments in public were likely to spark anarchy. Third, the speeches could be interpreted as proof that Evers directed others to carry out threats or violent deeds.

Officer Doe “has not pled facts that would allow a jury to conclude that Mckesson colluded with the unknown assailant to attack Officer Doe, knew of the attack and ratified it, or agreed with other named persons that attacking the police was one of the goals of the demonstration,” the Fifth Circuit acknowledged in a 2019 opinion. Thus, that ought to have concluded the case.

Rather, the Fifth Circuit determined in its most recent ruling in this case that Claiborne’s “three separate theories that might justify” holding a protest leader responsible are merely suggestions and that the MAGA-infused court is free to establish new First Amendment exceptions. The court went on to say that “where a defendant creates unreasonably dangerous conditions, and where his creation of those conditions causes a plaintiff to sustain injuries,” the First Amendment does not apply.

And just what “unreasonably dangerous conditions” were brought about by the Baton Rouge protest organized by McKesson? Mckesson was criticized by the Fifth Circuit for leading “the assembled protest onto a public highway, in violation of Louisiana criminal law,” failing to “dissuade” protestors who had allegedly stolen water bottles from a grocery store, and planning “the protest to begin in front of the police station, obstructing access to the building.”

This is a very new concept—that the First Amendment disappears the instant a large-scale demonstration breaks a traffic law. Furthermore, it is incompatible with almost the whole record of large-scale American civil rights demonstrations.

To be fair, the Court may have made a temporary decision in maintaining the Fifth Circuit’s attack on the First Amendment. The Court “expresses no view about the merits” when it declares that it will not consider a particular issue, as Sotomayor states in her McKesson opinion. In a subsequent case, the Court may yet reinstate the First Amendment right to demonstrate in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

However, the McKesson ruling from the Fifth Circuit is still enforceable in those three states for the time being. Thus, anyone planningMcKessonical demonstration inside the Fifth Circuit runs the possibility of incurring enormous financial consequences.

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