South Dakota Anti-Riot Law Blocked by Federal Judge

FILE- This Nov. 6, 2015, file photo shows a sign for TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline facilities in Hardisty, Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

(CN) – A federal judge in South Dakota Wednesday blocked provisions of a new anti-rioting law signed by Gov. Kristi Noem earlier this year that aims to quash protests against the Keystone XL pipeline.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol granted American Civil Liberties Union’s request for the injunction for multiple riot laws and statutes, including Senate Bill 189, known as the “riot-boosting law.”

The ACLU, representing four environmental groups and two individuals, claims SB 189 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the law fails to define what actions are deemed a violation that would constitute civil or criminal penalties.

“The so-called ‘Riot Boosting’ Act was clearly intended to suppress constitutionally-protected, peaceful protests of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Stephen Pevar, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “We’re glad the court recognized that these vague and overbroad laws threaten the First Amendment rights of South Dakotans on every side of the issue.”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

SB 189 imposes civil penalties on individuals who engage in “riot-boosting” which is defined in part as the encouragement of violence during a riot.

Judge Piersol made parallels to previous famous American protests and questioned the impact riot-boosting laws would have on those examples such as the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Imagine if these riot boosting statutes were applied to the protests that took place in Birmingham, Alabama, what might be the result? Judge Piersol wrote. “Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference could have been liable under an identical riot boosting law for the many types of damages which could have been claimed… for soliciting, advertising or encouraging another person to break the law.”

SB 189 was a preemptive measure for protests that were expected to occur during the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which if completed will carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil each day through South Dakota.

Judge Piersol filed a separate order earlier Wednesday, dismissing Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom from the suit. The order states that the plaintiffs did not have standing to assert a claim and that Sheriff Thom should be dismissed from the case because he is not making any choices on state policies.

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