Court bars Idaho from removing tent city protests

The action applying to future demonstrations stems from the Occupy movements.

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEWJune 12, 2014 

A federal judge issued the order against tent removal Wednesday, after the court ruled earlier that the state may constitutionally ban overnight sleeping and camping, but that restricting political protests, including 24-hour ones, violates the Idaho Constitution.

Seven rules that the Legislature passed to restrict such protests have been found unconstitutional; the Legislature then revoked the rules this past winter. Now that those rules are revoked, that portion of a lawsuit is moot, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled. But the Occupy group also asked Winmill to declare that aside from the rules, the state can't enforce laws it passed restricting protests in ways that violate Occupy Boise's First Amendment rights.

Winmill noted that as soon as Gov. Butch Otter signed the measures into law in 2012, he issued a directive to evict the Occupy tents from state property across from the Capitol, and the Idaho State Police, following the governor's directive, developed a detailed plan called "Operation De-Occupy Boise" to remove the items. "This policy targets political speech for suppression, and Occupy is entitled to a declaration that it violates the group's First Amendment rights," Winmill wrote.

"Going forward, the state has a great deal of discretion in enforcing the statutes," the judge wrote. "Given the state's history of targeting Occupy … there is a real threat that the state could use that discretion to undermine Occupy's protests." So he specifically ordered the state to enforce those laws only in ways that are consistent with its free speech ruling.

Richard Eppink, legal director of the ACLU of Idaho and attorney for Occupy Boise, said, "This has been a long and costly battle over liberties that the state should treasure, not suppress. Let's hope this permanent injunction gets our elected leaders to stop and think, and to start welcoming dissent, rather than trying to squelch it."

The Occupy group erected a symbolic tent city across from the Capitol in 2012, prompting legislators to take a variety of steps to get rid of the encampment.

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