A group calling itself “Occupy the Courts” lost a bid to force the U.S. to issue a permit for a rally outside a New York federal courthouse tomorrow.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan today denied a last-minute request by the group and by Jarret Wolfman, an organizer of the rally, for a court order compelling the U.S. General Services Administration to allow it to take place tomorrow outside the courthouse, on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan.
“Mr. Wolfman, go and demonstrate to your heart’s content, but not outside the Pearl Street entrance on the federal side,” Kaplan told Wolfman at the end of a hearing in the same courthouse today.
The event, intended to coincide with similar protests outside 120 U.S. courthouses in 46 states, was planned to begin in the plaza outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse between 4 and 6 p.m. tomorrow, then move to a march and rally at nearby Foley Square. Organizers said they want to call attention to a 2010 Supreme Court decision that made it easier for corporations to spend money in election campaigns.
“The purpose of the day of action is to mark the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money in elections,” Occupy the Courts said in a complaint filed with the court last night.
The suit was filed against two U.S. General Services Administration officials, Wesley French and Joanna Rosato. The GSA denied the rally permit on Jan. 13, citing a conflict with the swearing in of new citizens and a ceremony to seat a new judge, Occupy the Courts said in the complaint.
Kaplan ruled that the area outside the courthouse, which he said is a potential terrorist target, isn’t a public forum. As a result, the government may impose restrictions on free speech if they are reasonable and content-neutral, he said. Kaplan said that no permit has ever been issued for a demonstration outside the courthouse. He cited the government’s security concerns in refusing to order a permit.
Kaplan said that Occupy the Courts has adequate alternative locations for the rally, including the sidewalk in front of a nearby federal courthouse, which is currently closed for renovations.
“We’re considering our options,” Gideon Oliver, a lawyer representing Occupy the Courts, said after the hearing. “The organizers of tomorrow’s protest will have to take the court’s decision into account and determine where and how they’ll end up protesting.”
Wolfman, asked after the hearing what he planned to do in response to Kaplan’s ruling, said “I don’t know yet.”
Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, which represented the government in the case, declined to comment on the ruling.
The case is Wolfman v. French, No. 12-CV-443, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).