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ACLU Sues Milwaukee Over Republican Convention Free Speech Restrictions

The lawsuit is on behalf of the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024, which wants to host a parade near the convention.

A view of the Fiserv Forum, venue for the July 2024 Republican National Convention, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 8, 2024.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee, on behalf of a local organization, alleging that city officials have failed to protect the free speech and assembly rights of individuals and groups planning to protest the Republican National Convention (RNC) in the city’s downtown area next month.

The civil rights organization filed the paperwork on Wednesday night, doing so in support of complaints made by the Coalition to March on the RNC 2024. That organization is planning to hold a protest march on July 15, the first night of the convention.

“Milwaukee politicians have been rolling out the red carpet for the RNC and its attendees and spending millions on security,” the ACLU of Wisconsin said on its X account. “They must take equal care to safeguard the rights of people protesting outside the convention.”

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the ACLU contends that Milwaukee officials, who passed a city ordinance in March regarding many aspects of the RNC, have imposed regulations that “directly violate the First Amendment by unlawfully limiting the locations where protesters can parade and exercise their right to free speech” during the event.

That ordinance requires persons or groups intending to demonstrate near the RNC to “become registered” before they can protest on a designated parade route. The ordinance also imposes a “set amount of time,” yet to be established by city officials, that protests can occur on that route.

The ACLU is criticizing the city’s actions on a number of fronts, including for limiting the speech rights of demonstrators, and for failing yet to create and announce a proposed march route that will be “somewhere in a 90-square-block area around the Fiserv Forum,” the arena where the RNC is set to take place.

Milwaukee officials have “failed to identify any route whatsoever,” the ACLU said.

“The First Amendment protects the fundamental right of all individuals to assemble and petition the government for peaceful redress of grievances,” the organization said in its presser. “Milwaukee’s RNC parade ordinance infringes upon these constitutional rights by limiting marchers to areas where their message will go unheard and unseen by those attending the convention.”

ACLU of Wisconsin Legal Director Ryan Cox also blasted the city’s actions and inaction, stating:

Party conventions are major political events where Americans have always sought to make their voices heard, so it’s imperative that people can fully and freely exercise their rights. We call on city leaders to amend this ordinance to ensure it no longer unconstitutionally infringes on First Amendment rights and respects the rights of all individuals to peacefully protest and engage in political expression.

The Coalition to March on the RNC proposed a marching route last year, which has been included in the lawsuit’s text. The ACLU is urging Milwaukee to adopt this route, which would allow demonstrators to march on streets along the side and the back entrance of the Fiserv Forum, avoiding the popular “Deer District” front entrance but still allowing protests to be seen by interested parties.

Most of the route proposed wouldn’t focus on the RNC itself, but would go through much of the downtown area of Milwaukee, crossing two bridges over the Milwaukee River in a busy part of the city where other residents and visitors can see them.

The coalition states on its website that it’s hosting a “mass family-friendly rally and march on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Monday, July 15th, 2024.” An accompanying flier calls on participants to “fight the racist and reactionary agenda of the Republican Party,” to defend reproductive rights, to stand with Palestine and for “Peace, Justice, and equity for all.”

The group also said on its Facebook page that, due to no route being known at this time, it will hold a protest march one month prior to their planned protest at the RNC, to demonstrate to the city what their proposed route would look like. That protest is set to happen on Saturday, June 15, at noon.

“We demand to be within sight and sound of the convention, and so far the city has not granted us a permit to do so,” the coalition said. “This will be an opportunity to show the city that we plan to march regardless if we have a permit or not.”

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