ATLANTA (CN) - A Georgia state representative hit Governor Nathan Deal with a federal complaint Monday, challenging his refusal to let protesters converge on the Capitol next week as part of a nationwide demonstration commemorating victims of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
As explained in the Monday complaint, cities across the country will be participating in an event on March 24 called March for Our Lives.
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver took the constitutional battle to Georgia’s Northern District after state officials denied the organizer of Atlanta’s planned rally, Janel Green, a permit to use Liberty Plaza for their march.
Oliver and Green contend that state organizers denied the permit on the basis of a new state rule that requires “a constitutional officer” to sponsor any Liberty Plaza events that would be held after normal business hours.
The rule gives Gov. Deal final say to determine whether that criterion has been met as well as whether the event “is of statewide significance and nonpartisan based.”
And even though Green ultimately did inform the state that DeKalb County Clerk Debra Deberry would be sponsoring the Liberty Plaza rally as a constitutional officer, the state again denied her a permit.
Green and Oliver say that the sponsorship requirement is unconstitutional on its face, constituting a “standard-less prior restraint that invites viewpoint discrimination.”
“As interpreted, all officers have been only Republicans for at least seven years and as long as sixteen years,” the complaint states.
Green and Oliver also note that even if someone finds a sponsor, Gov. Deal still has “complete, unbridled and unreviewable discretion” to withhold a permit based on the vague language in the statute concerning “statewide significance” and partisanship.
Though the plaintiffs seek punitive damages and an injunction, a spokeswoman for Deal’s office said in an email Monday that the governor is going to work with Oliver and Green.
“The governor has directed the Georgia Building authority to work with his chief of staff to find a pathway to accommodate the March 24 request while maintaining the integrity of the permitting process,” Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Jen Talaber Ryan said.
In addition to the lawsuit, Rep. Oliver notified the state attorney general in a letter Monday about her legal opinion that the permitting rule is unconstitutional.
The one-page letter notes that Green’s treatment is particularly distressing on the heels of another occasion where state officials turned off the power at the Moms Demand Action march on Feb. 21.
In the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the state of Georgia has been among the staunchest opponents of gun-control initiatives.
After the Georgia-based Delta Airlines severed ties with the National Rifle Association last month, Gov. Deal signed a sweeping tax bill that eliminated a previous tax break on jet fuel the airline giant was slated to receive.
Rep. Oliver meanwhile is sponsoring a bill that would make it an offense to carry a weapon on public property where two or more people are assembled.
The congresswoman said in an email that Georgians have a constitutionally protected right to express their viewpoints at Liberty Plaza.
“My constituents plan to participate in the March 24th March for Our Lives national demonstration — exactly what the plaza was designed for,” Oliver wrote. “The denial of a permit based on the absence of a ‘host’ or invitation from an elected official is an infringement on constitutional rights.
“Good lawyers should always work for solutions instead of litigation, and I am happy to talk,” Oliver continued. “The rules for permitting can be improved and cannot be contingent on an invitation or ‘host’ from an elected official.”
The Georgia Building Authority did not respond for comment.
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