Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Activist Groups Can Sue Over D.C. Poster Rules

(CN) - The D.C. Circuit revived claims by two activist groups who say the District of Columbia's regulations on hanging posters are stifling and unconstitutional.

Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (ANSWER) and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation sued in federal court, claiming the district's restrictions violate the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause.

The rules bar groups from displaying more than three versions of a poster on one side of a street block. Posters must also be removed after 60 days, and the poster creator has to register with the district.

The district court dismissed Muslim American's case for lack of standing, saying the group's alleged injury amounted to, at most, "subjective 'chill.'"

But the D.C. Circuit cited an affidavit from the foundation's executive director, in which he said group would like to put up posters, but refrained from doing so based on the regulations.

"We read this affidavit as plainly indicating an intent to engage in conduct violating the 60-day limit - but for the existence of the regulations," Judge Stephen Williams wrote.

"We hold that the foundation's allegations are adequate to support standing," he added.

The court also reinstated ANSWER's claims, which the district court tossed on the grounds that the group was charged with violating the same poster regulations it now challenges.

The lower court improperly relied on an abstention in Younger v. Harri that bars a party from suing over a rule it's charged with violating.

"The Younger issue is more complex, but in the end we conclude that a remand of ANSWER's claim is also in order," Williams wrote.

"ANSWER may raise constitutional challenges in federal district court that are completely independent of and severable from the violations it is facing in the District's administrative proceedings."

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