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Constitutional Rights Cases Come To The Fore

Two law briefs that attorney Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center says could affect whether constitutional rights in Eugene and across the U.S. are  “silently but significantly” being eroded and “swept under the radar screen” were filed in courts this past week. The briefs involve participants from Occupy Eugene and SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep) and preexisting cases that deal with the First Amendment right to protest and assemble in what Regan calls “our revered public forums.”

The first brief, filed in federal court to be ruled on by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane is Occupy Eugene, Florence Semple, & Terrill Purvis v. United States Government Services Administration. That motion for summary judgement asks the court to rule “that the federal government’s permitting scheme for public use of the Eugene Federal Plaza and other federally managed property around the U.S. dangerously violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Regan says. The plaintiffs were charged with federal misdemeanor crimes for protesting in the federal plaza after 5 pm without a permit, but the government chose to dismiss the criminal prosecutions before the judge could rule on the constitutional issues, she says.

Regan says that, in a nutshell, if a single person wanted to go hold up a sign or have a vigil or prayer in the federal plaza to protest something like the outbreak of war then he or she would have to fill out a permit and give the feds 10 days to rule on it. Regan says that the government’s policies only allow for assembly and speech Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm, and “nothing in the Constitution says our rights turn off at 10 pm.” 

The second brief, a motion to dismiss filed in municipal court, is the city of Eugene versus Larry James Brugh, and it involves the right to protest and assemble at Lane County’s Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza (or as the county has been calling it, the Free Speech Terrace of the Wayne Morse Plaza).

In that case the county, under the leadership of the previous administrator Liane Richardson, shut down the public forum for more than a week to powerwash and clean it after its 24-7 occupation by advocates for the unhoused and for free speech rights. Regan says the court must decide whether that closure is a “constitutional time, place and manner restriction upon state and U.S. Constitutional rights.” Regan says the CLDC has prevailed in 25 other constitutional challenges involving the county plaza this year.

EW has asked the city of Eugene for comment on the case.