MADISON – Police today arrested and cited about two dozen protestors, some as old as 85, who were participating in a peaceful demonstration inside the Capitol rotunda.
The arrests came five months after the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit, aiming to block the state from requiring permits for demonstrations held inside the Capitol and from punishing protesters who gather there without a permit.
On July 8, Judge William Conley granted a preliminary injunction in the case, allowing groups of up to 20 people to gather without a permit inside the Capitol. The state has said it will not appeal the injunction.
In response to today’s arrests, ACLU of Wisconsin legal director Larry Dupuis issued the following statement:
“I’m disappointed that the Capitol Police have chosen to enforce the permit requirement for its own sake. It’s my understanding that those arrested today were not disruptive or disorderly. The only reason for their arrest was because there were more than 20 of them and they didn’t have a permit.
“I’m also disappointed at the continuing misrepresentation by the defendants of Judge Conley’s preliminary injunction ordering Chief Erwin and Secretary Huebsch to stop enforcing the permit requirement for groups of 20 or fewer. Secretary Huebsch was quoted as saying right before the arrests started, ‘We enforce the order today.’ Judge Conley did not ‘order’ the Capitol Police to arrest or ticket peaceful protesters. These arrests were ordered by Secretary Huebsch and Chief Erwin, not Judge Conley.”
The ACLU of Wisconsin filed the complaint in February on behalf of Michael Kissick, an assistant professor in the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Kissick sometimes participated in demonstrations inside the rotunda, including the Solidarity Singalong group. He ceased exercising his First Amendment rights in the Capitol in September 2012, when police began arresting and citing people who exercised free speech inside the rotunda without a permit. Dupuis and Madison attorney A. Steven Porter represented Kissick in court.
Under the new permitting policy, groups as small as four were forced to obtain prior permission from the government before they engaged in expression “for the purpose of actively promoting any cause.” The new rules also prohibited people from gathering in the Capitol for any performance, ceremony, presentation, meeting or rally without a permit.
In his 47-page decision, Judge Conley wrote that the Capitol’s “design was intended to embody… the pursuit of fair and open government informed by an educated, politically involved citizenry and the ‘Wisconsin idea.’”
A trial for a permanent injunction is scheduled for the week of January 13, 2014.
Video of today’s arrests via Rebecca Kemble: