Pierre, SD – It’s beginning to look a lot like freedom in South Dakota. The Noem administration agreed on Friday to grant a permit to the Blue State Refugees (BSR) to rally on the Capitol grounds during a special session of the Legislature on November 8 and 9. As a result, a scheduled court hearing in the case did not take place.
Meanwhile, BSR and its members hope to successfully resolve the case so that other protests and rallies on the Capitol grounds can take place during the holiday season. The Court’s order cancelling the hearing noted that BSR has a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its lawsuit.
“The State may have a significant interest in protecting its ‘Christmas at the Capitol’ tradition. Long-held government traditions such as this serve the State’s constituents and may foster civic engagement. However, a blanket restriction prohibiting any political gathering—apart from gatherings of the Legislature itself—on State Capitol grounds for two months does not appear to be narrowly tailored to any such interests,” wrote Chief Judge Roberto A. Lange.
“I am thrilled for our members that we will be able to make our voices heard. The state claims this was all a misunderstanding, but we had no choice but to go to court. We asked for this permit again and again, and the state shut us down every time until we filed our lawsuit,” said plaintiff Luke Robertson, a member of Blue State Refugees.
When Blue State Refugees reached out to the South Dakota Bureau of Administration to request a permit, they were told no events would be allowed anywhere on the capitol grounds for two months beginning November 1. The reason? The Capitol was being decorated for Christmas.
South Dakota officials may have been grinches to free speech at first, but their hearts grew three sizes after being sued. BSR filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Noem and several Bureau of Administration officials last Wednesday for violating the group’s First Amendment rights. The state reached out the next day to accommodate BSR’s permit request.
Now the group seeks an agreement from the state not to enforce its holiday ban on demonstrations in the future. BSR is represented in the lawsuit by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech, a nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy group that defends political speech rights, as well as Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, LLP.
“We are very pleased that the state has agreed to grant our clients the permits they requested. We are currently working to resolve the case so that every South Dakotan’s right to demonstrate at the Capitol is safe during the holidays. No one should have to file a lawsuit to get a permit for a rally,” said Institute for Free Speech Vice President for Litigation Alan Gura.
Rallies at state capitols are one of the most classic forms of the First Amendment rights to speak, assemble, and petition the government. South Dakota’s seasonal protest ban imposes an enormous and unjustified burden on these rights.
The case is Blue State Refugees v. Noem. To read more, click here.
About the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.