Court Invalidates Parts of Houston’s Protest Rules

     (CN) – The 5th Circuit struck down portions of Houston’s restrictions on parades, strikes and rallies, but largely upheld the city’s system of controlling protest activity.




     A janitors’ union sued the city for partially denying its plans to strike and hold rallies in downtown Houston. Specifically, it challenged three ordinances: a parade ordinance regulating street processions, a sound ordinance limiting noise, and a parks ordinance mandating permits for public gatherings in parks.
     The district court invalidated a provision of the parks ordinance that required permit-seekers to hire additional security, saying the requirement was impermissibly content-based. It also rejected as prior restraint a provision requiring 10 days’ notice for obtaining parade permits.
     The lower court granted summary judgment to the city on all other claims.
     The New Orleans-based appeals court partially reversed, further invalidating some of the challenged provisions.
     One such provision was a permit restriction on sound. Groups were limited to two permits per location for a 30-day period. The three-judge panel agreed that such a provision is “not narrowly tailored and is unconstitutional.”
     The union also challenged a provision barring parades for all but two one-hour periods per day on weekdays.
     “The parade ordinance is not unconstitutional as a whole,” Judge Leslie Southwick wrote, but found the hourly restriction invalid, again because it wasn’t narrowly tailored. The need to prevent traffic jams doesn’t justify the rule, the court ruled.
     The appellate panel also told the city to either clarify its parks ordinance or eliminate it.
     “A group cannot know whether it must apply for a permit if the Parks Department has failed to specify which areas of the city’s parks require permits,” Southwick wrote.
     The circuit upheld the lower court on all other claims and remanded.

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