With massive protests underway, UN experts call for repeal of anti-protest legislation

Peaceful Assembly

On 18th April 2017, The Washington Post revealed that according to court documents, undercover police agents had infiltrated an initiative called Disrupt J20 that was planning to protest Trump’s inauguration. Officers covertly attended and participated in the group's meetings prior to the inauguration. On Inauguration Day, police arrested over 200 protesters and charged them with rioting - a felony in the District of Columbia. David Thurston, a Disrupt J20 member, spoke out about the arrests on behalf of the group, stating: 

"We believe this is an aggressive assault on the right to organize, to protest".

On 22nd April, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in cities across the country to protest proposed cuts to federal science and research budgets and refute President Trump's views on climate change. The March for Science was mirrored by similar such protests around the world, including marches in Europe, South America and Australia.

On 27th March 2017, in a letter to U.S. lawmakers, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association called for revoking proposed anti-protest legislation. The proposed bills conflict with U.S. and international law and “would severely infringe upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly”. The UN experts reviewed proposed legislation in the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington State, concluding that:

"Given the current context in the United States, where several protests have erupted in the past few years, starting with the general movement led by Black Lives Matter and the recent protests arising after the presidential elections, we are concerned that the proposed legislation, by increasingly criminalizing peaceful protests, is designed to discourage the development of that movement. If enacted, the Bills would highly curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law, in particular articles 19 and 21 of the ICCPR, as well as the First Amendment of the American Constitution.

The Bills would have a chilling effect on protesters, stripping the voice of the most marginalized, who often find in the right to assemble the only alternative to express their opinions. We are particularly concerned about the fact that several Bills directly target environmental activists [...] [which] were reportedly proposed as a response to the protests organized by activists and opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota".

Expression

In early April 2017, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that a lawsuit to hold President Trump liable for inciting violence against three protesters at a campaign rally last year will continue to be heard in a court of law. The case pertains to a March 2016 Trump campaign rally in Louisville, during which Trump supporters assaulted anti-Trump protesters after then-candidate Trump had repeatedly said “get ’em out of here” as he stood on stage. Trump’s lawyers argued that the president’s comments were protected political speech and that his supporters were acting on their own volition, but the judge rejected that argument, declaring that the injuries suffered by the protesters were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s actions.

Association

In late March 2017, a federal appeals court ruled that a prohibition against law firms associating with non-lawyers as investors does not violate the law firms’ right to freedom of association. The plaintiff in the case, the law firm of Jacoby & Meyers, claims that the ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals violates their rights to associate with clients and to file legal objections on their clients’ behalf. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized First Amendment rights of lawyers acting as part of an advocacy group, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Court's opinion has distinguished the rights of association for lawyers who are litigating for their own commercial rewards.