Oklahoma High Court Refuses to Block Trump Rally in Tulsa

Mike Pellerin joins other Trump supporters Friday in downtown Tulsa, Okla., ahead of President Donald Trump’s Saturday campaign rally. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court declined Friday to stop President Donald Trump’s campaign rally on Saturday in Tulsa, in spite of no social distancing measures being enforced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The court denied an application to assume jurisdiction over the dispute in a 9-0 vote, according to the one-page order. In a concurring opinion, Justice Dustin Rowe reasoned that social distancing is not required at the rally because it is no longer mandatory in Oklahoma.

“Nearly three weeks ago, on June 1, 2020, Oklahoma entered into Phase 3 of the Open Up and Recover Safely (OURS) Plan,” the two-page opinion states. “Business owners or local officials became vested with the discretion to determine when and if social distancing measures should be applied. Thus, social distancing measures as of the date of the President’s rally are not mandatory as petitioners claim.”

The high court’s refusal comes three days after a trial judge in Tulsa County also refused to stop the rally in a lawsuit filed by a group of Tulsa businesses and residents who claim the mass indoor gathering at the BOK Center constitutes a public nuisance under state law.

Greenwood Centre, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation and two individuals sued the arena’s operators — SMG and ASM Global Parent — for protection against what they claim is “a substantial, imminent, and deadly risk to the community.” Neither Trump nor his campaign are parties to the lawsuit, which also does not name the city of Tulsa, owner of the arena, as a defendant.

The plaintiffs want the rally stopped unless there is 6-foot social distancing and face mask enforcement. They claim to not care that the event is in support of Trump and they would file the same lawsuit if it was Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the Oklahoma Thunder basketball team or country singer Garth Brooks holding an event at the arena.

“Oklahoma’s already strained healthcare infrastructure will be pushed past the breaking point by a certain spike in Covid-19 presentment at local hospitals,” the 18-page complaint states. “Recognizing the imminent public health risks associated with holding this type of event at this time, ASM Global has suspended all mass-gathering events at the BOK Center until the end of July.”

The rally will defy guidelines from the Trump administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has deemed as highest risk “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.”

Rose Brown and other Trump supporters line up and camp on 4th Street in downtown Tulsa, Okla., on Friday ahead of President Donald Trump’s Saturday’s campaign rally. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

Media reports state members of Trump’s coronavirus task force – including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx – advised him to not hold the rally.

Trump’s campaign responded Thursday to a request by BOK Center management for a health and safety plan, saying “we have received a letter from arena management and we’re reviewing it.” The arena holds approximately 19,000 people – Trump’s campaign bragged that over 1 million people have requested tickets.

“We take safety seriously, which is why we’re doing temperature checks for everyone attending, and providing masks and hand sanitizer,” the campaign said in a statement. “This will be a Trump rally, which means a big, boisterous, excited crowd. We don’t recall the media shaming demonstrators about social distancing – in fact the media were cheering them on.”

The rally will occur as Oklahoma has endured a worrying increase in new Covid-19 cases as the country reopens businesses since stay-at-home orders were issued in March. The state reported 9,706 confirmed cases and 367 deaths as of Friday afternoon, according to Oklahoma Department of Health.

The high court’s refusal to stop the rally comes one day after Republican Mayor G.T. Bynum declared a civil emergency in Tulsa and imposed a curfew on portions of downtown until Sunday morning. Bynum cited an expected crowd of over 100,000 people for the rally and several planned protests in response.

Tulsa police began erecting barricades within hours of the announcement and tweeted that those who refuse to leave the area “may be cited or arrested.” No arrests were reported in spite of a long line of Trump supporters camping outside of the arena Thursday evening for the rally.

Trump tweeted Friday that he has since spoken with Bynum, who Trump claims has now “informed me there will be no curfew tonight or tomorrow for our many supporters.” Trump urged attendees to “enjoy yourselves” and “thank you to Mayor Bynum!”

Several prominent Tulsans have pushed back against the rally. The Tulsa World newspaper published an editorial June 15 that flatly told Trump his campaign is not welcome in the city and “this is the wrong time” for such a large, public gathering.

“The city and state have authorized reopening, but that doesn’t make a mass indoor gathering of people pressed closely together and cheering a good idea,” the editorial states. “There is no treatment for Covid-19 and no vaccine.”

The newspaper added “this is the wrong place for the rally,” acknowledging the symbolism of the event taking place in a city 99 years after mobs of white people indiscriminately attacked and murdered black residents in the city’s Greenwood district. The Tulsa race massacre has often been cited during mass protests across the U.S. in the past three weeks over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Republican Governor Kevin Stitt asked Trump this week to change his plans to personally visit Greenwood in the hours before the rally.

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