MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – Protesters who have been a regular presence at the state Capitol since Gov. Scott Walker began his crackdown on unions say that a state rule that bans signs and banners from state buildings is unconstitutional.
Six protesters claim in Dane County Court that they all received citations for signs that did not “obstruct pedestrian traffic or, since they were hand-held, have any potential to damage the building.”
The citations were issued under the of the Wisconsin Administrative Code dealing with Displays and Decorations: “No displays, signs, banners, placards, decorations or graphic or artistic material may be erected, attached, mounted or displayed within or on the building or the grounds of any state office building or facility without the express written authority of the department.”
Violations are punishable by fines of up to $500.
The plaintiffs say they were cited in March, when chaos at the Capitol was at its height in response to Walker’s so-called Budget Repair Bill, which drastically curtailed rights of public unions.
“In all cases these signs were examples of the pure expression of political ideas,” the plaintiffs say. Many of the signs that brought them citations simply contained language from the Wisconsin Constitution: “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right, and no laws shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press …”
All the citations were dismissed on the motion of the Dane County District Attorneys’ Office.
The plaintiffs say Capitol police officers confiscated many of the signs, though they were not “disruptive of the business of the Capitol.”
They say the signs “were no more disruptive than the plaintiffs simply being physically present in the same places without their signs, and they were potentially less disruptive that efforts to express the same ideas by other means, such as the spoken word, might have been.”
The lead defendants are Mike Huebsch, Secretary of the Department of Administration, and Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs, who allegedly directed or ratified the issuance of citations and confiscation of signs.
The protesters seek declaratory judgment that the administrative rule is unconstitutional, and an injunction “prohibiting the enforcement of the unconstitutional portions of the Wisconsin Administrative Code and the interference with expressive activity protected by the First Amendment.”
They are represented by Jeff Scott Olson.