Richmond, VA – U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson heard arguments today in the ACLU of Virginia’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the City of Richmond’s parade ordinance. The ACLU represents a group of activists who were told to pay for off-duty police officers in order to hold a May Day parade earlier this year.
The ACLU is asking the court to find the Richmond city parade ordinance in violation of the First Amendment because it allows the Richmond Police Department to impose fees without any clear guidelines on how such fees are assessed. Under the ordinance, fees may be imposed based on the subject of the parade, and could be assessed on some groups, but not others.
“It is unconstitutional and patently unfair for the Richmond parade ordinance to be so vague,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “It is essential that laws affecting free speech be clear and precise to avoid any possibility that they will be enforced differently based on the viewpoint of the speakers.”
Kenneth Yates and other organizers had planned a May Day march through Richmond city streets and submitted a parade permit application on March 21. Although city code requires police to issue or deny the permit within five days, Yates did not receive a response until April 11. At that time, he was told that in order to march, his group would have to pay $294 for two off-duty police officers and two police cars. The group did not have the funds to pay for the officers.
The ACLU sent a letter to the Richmond Police Department on behalf of the group informing them that the Richmond parade ordinance does not authorize them to require a person to pay for off-duty police in order to march. Additionally, the ACLU said that applying such a requirement without specific guidelines is unconstitutional. The police did not respond to the ACLU’s letter. The ACLU then filed a lawsuit against the police department.
In 2010, May Day parade organizers were also told they would have to pay for off-duty officers. Ultimately, though, the police relented and granted organizers a permit to march in the street without having to pay for off-duty officers.
The case is Yates v. Norwood. Yates is represented by ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg and ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick.
A copy of the ACLU’s complaint can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/YatesvNorwoodcomplaint.pdf. A copy of the preliminary injunction memo can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/YatesvNorwoodPImemo.pdf.
Contact: ACLU of Virginia Executive Director, Kent Willis, 804-644-8022