Caucus of African American Leaders, ACLU Challenge Free Speech Restrictions at Lawyers' Mall

January 16, 2018

Download 1/12/18 letter to Department of General Services

 

Caucus of African American Leaders, ACLU Challenge

Free Speech Restrictions at Lawyers' Mall

 

State Used Unconstitutional Regulation to Block Civil Rights Group from Raising Funds for a Maryland Victim of the Las Vegas Mass Shooting

 

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis Goode; media@aclu-md.org; 443-310-9946


ANNAPOLIS - When March on Maryland, Anne Arundel County Indivisible, and the Caucus of African American Leaders (CAAL) sought to organize a candlelight vigil for victims of last Fall's mass shooting in Las Vegas and to raise funds for a victim from Annapolis, the groups were unconstitutionally blocked from doing so on Lawyers' Mall by the Department of General Services (DGS), citing rules prohibiting solicitation on state grounds. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland has informed the state of the group's intent to file suit if the rule is not immediately suspended, noting that numerous groups have already planned demonstrations during the 2018 General Assembly session and the state has refused to reform this regulation in the past, despite warnings about its illegality. 

 

"The right to solicit support for just causes should not be infringed upon by the state of Maryland," Carl Snowden, Convenor of the Caucus of African American Leaders. "We join with other progressive groups in demanding that the state eliminate this unconstitutional rule."

 

Constitutional speech protections are at their highest in areas that the public historically and traditionally has used to engage in the sharing of ideas and information. Graced by a statue of constitutional hero Thurgood Marshall, Lawyers' Mall historically has served as an open forum for public use in statehouse demonstrations, protests and gatherings, and thus is clearly a "traditional public forum" that allows the broadest free expression.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court long ago ruled that political soliciting and solicitation of monetary donations constitute protected speech under the First Amendment.  Yet both are prohibited by the DGS rule.

 

"It is an egregious affront to the Constitution for the state to block Marylanders from exercising their First Amendment rights on the grounds of Maryland's quintessential site for vigils, rallies, and demonstrations, right there in Thurgood Marshall's shadow," said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "We are asking the State to immediately suspend this unconstitutional regulation, to ensure that the First Amendment freedoms of all groups organizing on Lawyers' Mall during the 2018 legislative session are protected." 

 

In 2011, the ACLU advised DGS and its attorneys that the soliciting ban was unconstitutional as applied to a public area like Lawyers' Mall. Del. Peter Hammen (then the Chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee) asked the General Assembly's chief counsel to convene and chair a workgroup to review the regulations regarding expressive conduct on State-owned properties. The ACLU's David Rocah was asked to participate in the workgroup and at their request produced a comprehensive review of Maryland state regulations governing speech rights on public properties, including the DGS soliciting ban. But despite Rocah's advice that the DGS rule violated the First Amendment and should be changed, DGS failed to take any action to amend the regulation at that time, or in the years since.

 

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