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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NY Federal Court Is Off|Limits to Occupy Protest

MANHATTAN (CN) - Occupy Wall Street cannot demonstrate in front of Manhattan federal court to mark the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, a federal judge ruled.

On Jan. 21, 2010, a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled that corporate and union donations used in election campaigns constitute free speech. Occupy says the holding "opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money in elections."

The Occupy movement, which opposes the corruption of the private sector by corporate interests, plans nationwide demonstrations against this ruling on Friday at federal courts around the country and before the U.S. Supreme Court.

At a Thursday hearing, organizer Jarret Wolfman of Occupy the Courts testified, "They were calling for every federal courthouse to be occupied, as it were, to Occupy the Courts, so we could have direct contact to people leaving work."

More than 130 Occupy the Courts events are planned throughout 46 states, according to the group's press release.

"Only one other city - Bryson City, North Carolina - is also facing a permit denial for their demonstration," the release states.

To formalize the protest in New York, which launched the Occupy movement from Wall Street four months ago, Wolfman applied in December for a permit.

Since Wolfman's email exchange about the permit with Wesley French of the Government Services Administration was admitted into evidence, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan summarized it for the Jan. 19 hearing.

Wolfman initially asked that the demonstration be held at 40 Centre Street, the future home of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, now under construction.

Though French then suggested that Occupy apply to congregate in front of the Pearl Street entrance of the Southern District of New York, his organization later denied the permit, stating that it never had granted a permit for this location in its history.

Judge Kaplan quipped that the development illustrates the joke, "I'm with the government. I'm here to help you."

Kaplan still sided with the agency, however, noting that swearing-in ceremonies of U.S. citizens makes Fridays especially busy in Manhattan federal court, heightening security risks.

Although Wolfson said that he expected approximately 200 people to attend, Kaplan worried that the Facebook invitation would draw larger crowds, posing a threat of revolution.

"Governments have been overthrown" because of "social media," Kaplan said.

Department of Justice attorney Natalie Nancy Kuehler stated, erroneously, that the group's Facebook page invited more than 200,000 people.

The event's actual Facebook page shows that just more than 200 Facebook users indicated that they would attend, out of approximately 3,500 invited.

Kaplan said he "sympathized' with an effort to protest the Citizens United decision, but that Wolfman's demonstration would have to occur in front of one of New York's other courthouses.

"Mr. Wolfman, go out and demonstrate to your heart's content," Kaplan said. "Just not in front of Pearl Street."

Manhattan protesters will gather at 5:30 p.m. at Zuccotti Park on Friday before marching to Foley Square in front of the 40 Centre Street courthouse, the original proposed location.

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