Group files suit over right to protest at RNC in September


The Republican National Convention in St. Paul may be months away, but officials and protesters are already clashing.

For now, the battleground is in the courts rather than the streets.

A lawsuit filed Monday by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War against St. Paul city officials alleges the city has denied the coalition its First Amendment rights, according to the complaint.

The coalition requested permits to march from the Capitol, around Xcel Energy Center and back, according to the complaint.

City officials have refused to “meaningfully permit” the coalition to protest near the convention, according to the complaint.

The coalition filed the suit against St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington and Assistant Police Chief Matthew Bostrom.

After meeting with the Plant Management Division of the Minnesota Department of Administration, which handles protest permits at the Capitol, the coalition acquired a permit to protest there, according to the complaint.

But the coalition has yet to receive a permit for the rest of its march, according to the complaint, which must be approved by the city.

Students for a Democratic Society at the University are involved in the lawsuit. Group officer and women’s studies senior Tracy Molm said behind closed doors, officials have led the group to believe its requests are reasonable.

“We’ve been trying very hard,” she said. “Trying much harder than we should have to.”

The city has afforded the coalition a conditional permit to protest Sept. 1, the first day of the convention, but provides no march route, according to the complaint.

Molm called the conditional permit a “maybe” permit, and said it doesn’t provide protesters with an adequate venue for demonstration.

“They roll out the red carpet for the Republicans, doing all kinds of special things,” she said. “We can’t pay for a permit to protest in our own city.”

Despite the lawsuit and the coalition’s claims, St. Paul Police Department spokesman Tom Walsh said the city has worked to let all viewpoints be heard.

“We’ve done more to protect free speech than any other convention city before us,” he said. “We’re proud of that.”

Many cases in the past have tackled the issue of protester rights, said David Schultz, a Hamline University law professor who also teaches election law at the University.

One case in the 1970s allowed members of the American Nazi Party to protest through an area with a high density of Holocaust survivors, Schultz said.

“The protesters are going to have a right to protest,” he said. “They have to be afforded a permit.”

The question of where the protest is allowed the take place, Schultz said, is one issue for debate.

Under law, the city has the right to subject protest plans to any “reasonable security measures” but the protesters have a right to protest “close to, or near” the convention, Schultz said.

“The further they put them away, that’s going to look more unreasonable,” he said. “The more conditions they impose on it, the more courts are going to look favorably on it.”