Dallas Pays $2 for First Amendment Violation


     DALLAS (CN) – Dallas admits its ban on highway overpass protests was unconstitutional and will pay protesters $2 to settle their lawsuit.
     Anti-Obama group Overpasses for America and a member filed a federal complaint against the city just over a year ago, alleging violations of the First Amendment.
     The city passed the ban to prevent signs from distracting drivers. Violators could face criminal charges and up to $500 in fines. The ordinance was a response to a 2013 protest near the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University.
     Overpasses said it has held 75 to 100 “free speech assemblies” in the city and has never caused any public or traffic safety issue.
     It held an assembly on a Northaven overpass on the Dallas North Tollway on March 1 and says there were no incidents, as it was organized in cooperation with Dallas police and the Dallas director of Homeland Security.
     Overpasses said its signs were not tied to the overpass and complied with city ordinances.
     “Plaintiffs were looking forward to holding the free speech assembly on March 15, 2014 and garnered a positive anticipation for their event,” the complaint stated. “Plaintiffs, however, were informed that they would not be allowed to hold their free speech assembly because the Dallas Police Department was now obligated to enforce the City of Dallas’ free speech ban.”
     U.S. District Judge David Godbey approved the settlement Monday, finding the $1 in damages for each plaintiff is in “recognition of defendant’s violation” of the First Amendment.
     “The nominal damages award represents a legal determination that plaintiffs suffered a deprivation of constitutional rights,” the 2-page final consent judgment states.
     The city will pay the plaintiffs’ $25,000 in attorney’s fees.
     The city repealed the ordinance three months after the lawsuit was filed, at the request of City Attorney Warren Ernst and the Dallas Police Department.
     Jerad Najvar, an attorney for Overpasses in Houston, said at the time he was glad the City Council majority that approved the ordinance “now realizes its error.”
     “The problem is that these concerns were raised before the ordinance was passed, and my clients’ rights have been violated,” he said. “The same council that passed this ordinance, ignoring free speech objections, would not have repealed it but for our lawsuit.”
     Navjar said the city should “certainly” be on the hook for his clients’ attorneys fees.
     “People in government have an obligation to consider whether laws are constitutional before they are enacted, because not everyone is able to find a constitutional attorney,” he said.

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