- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

A ban on demonstrations at the foot of the steps in front of the U.S. Capitol violates free-speech rights and enforcement of it should be barred, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.
In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals' three-judge panel unanimously upheld a First Amendment challenge to the Capitol Police rule prohibiting "demonstration activity" such as parading, picketing, handing out leaflets, vigils, sit-ins and speechmaking at the Capitol's steps.
The judges ruled that the sidewalk, which leads to the House and Senate steps, is a public forum where tourists can see and take pictures of the Capitol, and rejected the federal government's assertion that the sidewalk functions as a "security perimeter."
"We reject the proposition that demonstrators of any stripe pose a greater security risk to the Capitol building and its occupants than do pedestrians, who may come and go anonymously, travel in groups of any size, carry any number of bags and boxes, and linger as long as they please," Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote in the 13-page decision.
The decision yesterday drew praise from local activists who frequently organize demonstrations in the nation's capital.
"This is a wonderful thing, that this space will be reopened and that people will be allowed to exercise their free speech in front of the Capitol," said Adam Eidinger, an activist who is a D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate running for the House of Representatives. "Hopefully, this is only the beginning and that other areas in Washington could be reopened to demonstrators."
Jamie Loughner, another activist who frequently participates in demonstrations in other spots around the Capitol, said the ruling is welcome news. "This ruling allows for a freer voice at a time when it's definitely needed," said Miss Loughner, an activist with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence.
The demonstration ban was adopted by the Capitol Police Board, consisting of the sergeant of arms of both the House and Senate. Federal law gives the board the power to adopt such regulations.
Art Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area and who helped argue the case before the appeals court, said the ruling is "long overdue" for the courts to clarify that this public sidewalk is open to all Americans.
"If people with Gucci bags get to do that inside the Capitol, then ordinary Americans should be able to do that outside the Capitol," Mr. Spitzer said.
The ruling comes in a 1997 case involving Robert Lederman, an artist who demonstrated on the sidewalk outside the Capitol to publicize a lawsuit he and others brought to sell their work on public sidewalks in New York City.
According to documents filed in the case, two U.S. Capitol Police officers arrested Mr. Lederman for distributing leaflets and carrying a sign saying, "Stop Arresting Artists." He was later acquitted when a D.C. Superior Court judge found the ban unconstitutional.
Mr. Lederman then sued in federal court, challenging the ban's constitutionality and sought damages for his arrest from the two police officers and the D.C. and federal governments. The appeals court ruled that the two officers did not violate rules by arresting Mr. Lederman.

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