Federal judge issues injunction against Walker administration Capitol permit requirements

Yesterday federal judge William Conley, the Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, issued an order preventing officials in the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker from “(1) distinguishing based on the content of the speech between “rallies” and other events for permitting purposes inside the Capitol and (2) enforcing the permit requirement for gatherings expected to draw 20 or fewer persons inside the Capitol rotunda itself.”

At issue was the Walker administration’s new rules requiring that any groups that wanted to gather in the State Capitol rotunda to exercise their First Amendment rights to get a permit from the Wisconsin State Capitol Police, which is headed by Chief Dave Erwin, Walker’s hand-picked enforcer. The plaintiff, Michael Kissick, who was assisted by the ACLU and Madison attorney Steven Porter, filed a lawsuit claiming that Kissick’s free speech rights were being infringed upon by the Walker administration policy requiring citizens to obtain permits to express their views inside the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda. In issuing an injunction, Judge Conley found that Kissick is likely to prevail on some of his arguments when his case goes to a full trial.

In his decision granting an injunction, Judge Conley also cited the state’s own words from its official nomination of the State Capitol rotunda for designation as a National Historic Landmark, which was granted on January 3, 2001:

The soaring rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol is designed to induce its citizenry to be, as individuals, among the “resources of Wisconsin.” Whereas some statehouses are maintained apart from the urban fabric, the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda functions, both literally and symbolically, as a city center and is fully utilized as a public space to which all have claim.

It’s good to see there are still some judges out there who value free speech.


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