Tea Party Can’t Use Wisc.|Bridge for Protests

     MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – A pedestrian walkway over I-90 cannot be used by the Tea Party for protests because of concerns about public safety, a federal judge ruled.
     Gregory Luce and Nicholas Newman – members of the La Crosse Tea Party – fought unsuccessfully to overturn a Campbell, Wisc., ordinance that prohibits signs of any kind on an I-90 pedestrian overpass.
     Luce and Newman sued the Town of Campbell and former Police Chief Tim Kelemen in 2014 and claimed the ordinance violated their free speech rights. Luce also sued Keleman after Keleman admitted to two fellow officers that he used Luce’s personal information to sign Luce up for online memberships and solicitations, including some for gay porn sites and government healthcare.
     The plaintiffs claimed “the Town’s claim of traffic safety concerns is ‘merely conjectural’ … [and] that the Town ‘provides only speculation and personal opinion to support’ [the ordinance.]”
     The section of I-90 that runs beneath the walkway sees between 23,000 and 29,000 vehicles on a daily basis and is governed by a 65 mile-per-hour speed limit.
     U.S. District Court Judge William M. Conley cited evidence from observations made by the defendants in his opinion, and wrote:
     “The town’s representatives were entitled to rely on their personal experience and common sense to determine that protesting on overpasses above the Interstate was potentially distracting to drivers. The decision to enact Ordinance 9.12 is further supported by the evidence of cars braking near the overpass during protests, horns honking at protestors, complaints of drivers, the presence of on and off ramps at or near the overpasses, and evidence of drivers pulling over to the side of the Interstate to photograph the protests.”
     The plaintiffs also argued that a 100-foot area of restriction written into the ordinance is unconstitutional, and while Judge Conley agreed that “it is somewhat concerning that the Town and its board members cannot articulate a basis for imposing a 100-foot restriction,” he ultimately sided with the defendants.
     He wrote: “Some distance needed to be adopted to realize the traffic safety goals underlying Ordinance 9.12 … [and] there is a ‘reasonable fit’ between the Town’s goal and the 100-foot limitation.”
     Finally, the plaintiffs argued that the ordinance leaves them without a reasonable means to reach their intended audience.
     Judge Conley firmly rejected the notion, and wrote: “plaintiffs may ‘go door-to-door to proselytize their views [and] may distribute literature in this manner … or through the mails.’ Additionally, they may contact their intended audience by telephone, speak at public meetings, place messages on cars, or use local media. Perhaps an even more intriguing alternative channel to the plaintiffs is the continued use of YouTube to broadcast their speech to Internet users around the world.”
     Turning to plaintiff Luce’s claim against Chief Kelemen, Judge Conley ruled that Luce’s privacy rights were not violated when Keleman posted his personal information on web forums.
     Even though Keleman used a police computer to post the information, Conley ruled that the anonymous posts “in no way displayed [Keleman’s] police power – either expressly or implicitly.”

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