Last week a Cook County judge threw out convictions against 92 Occupy protesters in Chicago, saying the arrests were unconstitutional and that the police denied these citizens their First Amendment rights. The Chicago police had used a "curfew" standard as justification for the arrests, but the judge saw this as a smokescreen since the police routinely choose not to enforce curfew at other public gatherings, such as President Obama's 2008 victory celebration. Mayor Emmanuel called this an "apples to oranges" comparison, but where should the line be drawn, and does every person get an equal voice?
According to Constitutional law expert Gregory Magarian, the government routinely "retains the power to limit the 'time, place, and manner' of expressive activity in public forums" but, "in practice, these limits [swallow] First Amendment rights whole." Where should the lines be drawn? When might the government reasonably restrict access to public property? What would our society lose without public space to air dissenting opinions?
“The Occupy protests," according to Magarian, should lead us to take a hard look at how our legal
system protects — or fails to protect — meaningful opportunities for
A final thought: the 99% figure in the poster above refers to non-millionnaires. While one percent of Americans are millionaires, an incredible 50% of Congress-men and -women are millionaires. Is this disparity worthy of protest? To what extent do the rules created by the rich favor the rich? For the purposes of this post, I want to limit that response to the First Amendment. Are attempts at limiting the Constitutionally protected rights of speech and assembly really a way of silencing the have-nots? Does everyone in our democracy have equal access to voice their opinions?