Protesters Lose Bid to Topple Ban at California Capitol

The California Capitol building.

(CN) — A ban on protests at California’s state Capitol will remain in effect as a federal judge on Friday denied a request to halt it, ruling that the state has expanded powers during emergencies.

In a 24-page order, U.S. District Judge John Mendez denied a temporary restraining order requested by California residents Ron Givens and Chris Bish in a lawsuit filed last week. The two said in their complaint that emergency measures enacted by Governor Gavin Newsom to combat the viral pandemic were a “gross abuse of power.”

They filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of California after the California Highway Patrol denied their separate requests for permits to protest on the grounds of the state Capitol over the state’s stay-at-home order and inability to timely process firearms background checks.

The pair argued in their complaint that state leaders deprived them “of their ability to hold these protests — which, due to its nature, cannot be delayed until after the pandemic without losing their purpose.”

Bish, a Republican candidate for California’s 6th Congressional District, attended a similar rally on April 20 at the Capitol where protesters who did not practice the state’s social distancing rules demanded the governor lift the stay-at-home order.

Following that rally, the highway patrol announced it would no longer issue permits for protests on state grounds.

In Friday’s ruling, Mendez cited a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court ruling from Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts that outlined the state’s right to enact such measures.

“Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” the ruling states. “The Supreme Court penned those words over a hundred years ago, but they remain relevant today.”

Mendez wrote of the importance of the First Amendment, calling the Capitol grounds “a place for the citizenry to convey important messages to its lawmakers.”

But the judge also found that the state did not necessarily target their particular protests since the highway patrol banned all protests on state grounds, not just theirs.

“The State’s order seeks to suppress the virus, not expressive association,” Mendez wrote.

Judge Mendez acknowledged the difficulties surrounding the state’s stay-at-home order, calling it “burdensome, and even devastating , to many.”

“This pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll,” he wrote. “But the sacrifices all California residents are being asked to make to protect the state’s most vulnerable flow from a constitutional executive order. And our willingness to rise to the challenge posed by that order is a true measure of our humanity.”

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