Judge Henry E. Autrey granted the ACLU of Missouri a full victory in their long fight against St. Louis City’s unconstitutional treatment of protesters by police officers. In 2017 the ACLU filed suit on behalf of Jessica Langford, a protestor unconstitutionally arrested during the 2017 Women’s March. The arrest happened after the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department arbitrarily decided to end First Amendment expression while Langford was marching with others along Market Street.
At the heart of the lawsuit was a St. Louis ordinance that criminalizes blocking traffic and failing to obey police orders without protecting speech on streets and sidewalks under any circumstances. The ordinance is overbroad and vague under the First Amendment and violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The city of St. Louis also does not issue permits for protests, virtually guaranteeing future First Amendment violations of citizens.
The ordinance was enacted in 2012 after a previous ordinance was found unconstitutional in a suit also filed by the ACLU.
Judge Autrey concluded that the city’s ordinance is unconstitutional on its face, and how it has been applied in quelling individuals first amendment rights. Restrictions placed on spontaneous political expression impose severe burdens on political speech. Police officers have used this to put an end to expressive conduct whenever they decide they do not like a particular message.
“People have the right to protest on streets and sidewalks without government officials exercising discretion to pick who may do so lawfully and who will be arrested.” stated Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri.