Court says park curfew law used to arrest Occupy Chicago protesters is constitutional



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CHICAGO — A state appeals court says a Chicago curfew law invoked to arrest Occupy protesters at the city's best known park in 2011 doesn't violate free speech rights, declaring the First Amendment "does not guarantee the right to employ every conceivable method of communication at all times and in all places."

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate Court reverses a lower-court finding that the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew at the 319-acre Grant Park violated protesters' constitutional rights.

In its unanimous, 21-page opinion posted Tuesday afternoon, the appellate court said Chicago has legitimate interests in shutting down such parks overnight, including to dissuade criminal activity after dark and to give maintenance crews unencumbered access.

"The first amendment, while offering a host of protections, does not guarantee the right to employ every conceivable method of communication at all times and in all places," the ruling said.

In his 2012 ruling, Cook County Judge Thomas Donnelly noted Grant Park has long been a "quintessential public forum," including for demonstrators who clashed with police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Several thousand anti-Wall Street protesters had gathered in the park in October 2011, though some left when police warned they would be arrested after the park closed. About 300 were arrested for not leaving. Only 92 fought the charges in court and Tuesday's decision reinstates their cases.

An attorney representing some of the anti-Wall Street demonstrators, Molly Armour, criticized the ruling, pointing to more recent nationwide protests to illustrate the importance of unfettered rallies.

"(Tuesday's) decision strikes a blow to protest movements at the very moment we see how essential they are to the national dialogue and to affecting fundamental social justice," she said.

A statement from the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which provided legal assistance to protesters, didn't indicate if its attorneys planned to appeal.

The city's law department welcomed the ruling that revives the curfew law.

"The city is committed to healthy political debate, the right to free speech and peaceful assembly, but does not condone illegal conduct," spokesman John Holden said in an emailed statement.


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