On Thursday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling and upheld restrictions on the speech of two anti-abortion protesters arrested at the 2004 Republican National Convention. The court found that there was a “compelling government interest in security” around the Madison Square Garden convention site between Aug. 30 and Sept 2, when the arrests occurred in 2004.
The court held that a “no-demonstration zone” over a two-block stretch of the Seventh Avenue was “narrowly tailored to achieve significant government interests.” The arrested protesters violated the orders and were found holding anti-abortion signs in the no-demonstration zone refusing to comply with police orders.
The arrested protesters, Michael Marcavage and Steven Lefemine asked a court to order the city from applying its policy and sought monetary damages. In October 2010, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan ruled against the plaintiffs and they appealed.
On Thursday, the 2nd Circuit sided with the law enforcement and held that limitation on speech around the convention “was a permissible time, place, and manner restriction of speech.” The panel also said that the audio recordings made and submitted by the plaintiffs themselves regarding the occurrence “shows indisputably that they were neither courteous nor compliant,” and the police has sufficient probable cause to arrest them.
A lawyer for the protesters, Jim Campbell said, “This is contrary to the precedent of federal courts around the country … The court promoted the idea that the government can banish citizens trying to express their views far away from their intended audience.”
The senior counsel for the state, Drake Colley said in a statement, “Two federal courts have now agreed that the police appropriately balanced the safety and the Constitutional rights of both demonstrators and non-demonstrators alike during the convention.” The New York City Law Department also pointed out that the NYPD had faced “extraordinary challenges” during the convention with tens of thousands of attendees and demonstrators.
The NYPD had conducted mass arrests during the convention, arresting more than 1,800 demonstrators over an eight-day period in August and September 2004, while the Republican Party met in New York for the nomination of George W Bush as its presidential candidate.