WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge shot down claims by protesters challenging parts of the presidential inauguration parade route reserved for official use.
The Thursday opinion and order wraps up a decade-long legal battle between government agencies and the group Answer Coalition, whose name is an acronym for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.
Answer brought its complaint in 2005 when the National Parks Service sought to expand the space traditionally allotted for the inaugural presidential parade along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Though the Presidential Inaugural Committee historically received the White House sidewalk and three-quarters of Lafayette Park for its exclusive use, the parks service filed a permit application in 2005, more than a year ahead of the ceremony, to let the committee also take over one-third of the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Answer challenged the move as a violation of the First Amendment, and a federal judge forced the parks service two years later to change the allotment given to the inaugural committee.
Though this ruling left the committee with about 14 percent of Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as three-quarters of Freedom Plaza, Answer claimed in 2012 that the committee's allotment improperly favored the administration's viewpoints over other, competing voices.
The group also challenged the Secret Service's ban on sign supports, but U.S. District Judge Peter Friedman granted the government summary judgment Thursday.
Applying three guidelines from the decision in Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc., Friedman held the private, nonprofit committee certainly could restrict access to Pennsylvania Avenue's sidewalks because of the presidential inauguration's lengthy tradition, its close identification in the public mind with the U.S. government and the government's control over the message.
While Friedman found "no direct evidence" of the government's control and authority over the committee's activities, he determined the president-elect, who becomes president hours before the parade, controls the committee and that the government contributes "significant" public money to the parade, qualifying the committee's speech as government speech.
This determination allowed Friedman to apply intermediate scrutiny to his analysis of whether the committee could reserve portions of the parade route for its own use, rather than the strict scrutiny Answer hoped it would receive.
Friedman also noted that the reservations serve a government interest and that any resulting restrictions on free-speech are narrowly tailored so as not to "burden substantially more speech than is necessary."
"The government's interest is undoubtedly significant - the Inaugural Parade is an event followed worldwide that celebrates 'the observance of the inauguration of the Chief Executive of the United States,'" Friedman wrote, quoting D.C. Circuit case Mahoney v. Babbitt.
Furthermore, the spaces the committee set aside for itself go to media covering the event, toilets for the public and viewing areas for the president's guests, Friedman wrote.
Because the committee's reservation of a small portion of the parade route leaves "the vast majority" of the street open, Answer has many alternative places available for protest, Friedman ruled.
The judge also discredited "Answer's argument that there is 'no other suitable or alternative space along the parade route for its intended rally.'"
"ANSWER has engaged in expressive activity at every Inaugural Parade since 2005, previous has received a permit for space in the unreserved portions of Freedom Plaza, and itself has touted its demonstrations as a success," Friedman wrote.
Friedman upheld the Secret Service's ban against sign supports on the same basis.
Answer did not return a voicemail requesting comment on the ruling.
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