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Court stops Chicago from restricting free speech in Millennium Park

Friday, Feb 21, 2020

* Press release…

In a win for the First Amendment right to circulate petitions, a federal judge has struck down the City of Chicago’s restrictive rules that did not allow First Amendment activities in Millennium Park, including circulating referendum petitions and outdoor evangelizing. The case stemmed in part from petition passers being harassed by security while collecting signatures for a referendum to term limit the Mayor of Chicago between 2016 and 2018.

Judge John Robert Blakey of the Northern District of Illinois found that Millennium Park’s rules unconstitutionally limit the free-speech rights of petition passers and those wishing to evangelize and distribute religious literature. The Court further found that the rules were unconstitutionally vague and were being enforced arbitrarily and “in a discriminatory manner,” including based on the identity of the speaker.

In his opinion, Judge Blakey stated that if the City of Chicago’s arguments in favor of the rules were to stand, “any park with a statue could lose its First Amendment protections.” The judge wrote, “The law precludes this absurd result.”

Attorneys Pat Quinn, former Governor of Illinois, and Ed Mullen represented petition passers Elizabeth Norden, Tyler Brumfield, Doris Davenport, and William Morgan in the case of Swart et al v. City of Chicago. They joined students from Wheaton College, represented by the firm Mauck & Baker, who were told they could not evangelize and hand out religious literature in Millennium Park.

Norden, Brumfield, Davenport, and Morgan testified that they were harassed and intimidated by Millennium Park personnel on the Great Lawn of the park, asked to leave the park, and threatened with arrest while circulating petitions for a term limit referendum on Chicago’s mayor.

The ruling is here

This Court’s analysis of the other preliminary injunction factors requires little discussion. In First Amendment cases, the likelihood of success is dispositive because the loss of First Amendment freedoms—even for minimal periods of time— constitutes an irreparable injury, and protecting First Amendment freedoms always serves the public interest.

A status hearing has been set for March 4th.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Oak Parker - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:26 am:

    Great job by Governor Quinn

  2. - Jocko - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:33 am:

    Someone needs to tell Quinn that one person’s ‘gadfly’ is another person’s ‘nuisance’.

  3. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:36 am:

    == Great job by Governor Quinn==

    Yeah, until the militia nuts and nazis and antifa all show up to duke it out down on the lakefront. Or the tourists start getting harassed every ten feet by moonies and hari krishnas and some clown wanting their signature on a petition to run for alderman. Quinn was never the best at considering the long-term consequences of his actions

  4. - Ron Burgundy - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:36 am:

    The ruling is correct legally, but as a practical matter cause for many visitors to heave a sigh of frustration.

  5. - Humboldt - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:37 am:

    Ha! The only place I’ve seen Governor Quinn in person following his time in office he was literally collecting petition signatures on the Millennium Park Great Lawn. Good job on this one.

  6. - Commisar Gritty - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:38 am:

    What is Chicago politics without scared, entry-level 20 somethings, fresh out of college, timidly asking strangers for signatures on a nominating petition?

    Also shout outs to the local party people that stand there with like 6 different people’s sheets.

  7. - Commisar Gritty - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:39 am:

    Also Buckingham Fountain? Great spot if there is no residency requirement. You want those local signatures, you go to Daley Plaza.

  8. - Oak Parker - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:40 am:

    Don Harmon’s crew of circulators is one reason he was able to build goodwill with his colleagues over the years that led to him being elected Senate President.

  9. - Excitable Boy - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:43 am:

    - The ruling is correct legally, but as a practical matter cause for many visitors to heave a sigh of frustration. -

    Well, we certainly wouldn’t want a minor right such as free speech to cause anyone the unspeakable burden of saying “No thanks.”

  10. - Oak Parker - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:48 am:

    Political & religious speech is the most protected free speech and there is nowhere more public than a public park, so I don’t know why the city thought this would fly. A law student with one semester of constitutional law could have told them this wouldn’t hold up.

  11. - lakeside - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:48 am:

    ==the unspeakable burden of saying “No thanks.”==

    I can’t believe this was even a case. You are in public, in a public park, paid for by the public (somewhat). It’s ok to interact with people and for people to interact with you.

  12. - Frank talks - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 10:55 am:

    What a week Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich victorious at the same time? Smells like November’02 all over again.

  13. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 11:05 am:

    ==the unspeakable burden of saying “No thanks.”==

    ….says the guy who has never been chased down the street by a clipboard-waving Pat Quinn

  14. - Moist von Lipwig - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 11:21 am:

    Great job by Pat Quinn and Ed Mullen and the attorneys at Mauck & Baker, protecting our constitutional rights.

  15. - Flapdoodle - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 12:48 pm:

    ==A law student with one semester of constitutional law could have told them this wouldn’t hold up.==

    Doesn’t even take a 1L: “…they [parks] have immemorially been held in trust for the of the public and, time out of mid, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thought between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use of the streets and public places has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens. The privilege of a citizen of the United States to use the streets and parks for communication of view on national questions may be regulated in the interest of all; it is not absolute, but relative and must be exercised in subordination to the general comfort and convenience, and in consonance with peace and good order, but it must not, in the guise of regulation, be abridged or denied.”
    Justice Roberts, Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496 (1939)

  16. - Cheryl44 - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 12:53 pm:

    Sheesh Lester’s, if you don’t run he won’t chase you.

  17. - Anon E Moose - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 12:56 pm:

    I’ll be there to remind these kids that there is no God and that their beliefs are harmful.

  18. - Leatherneck - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 1:38 pm:

    - Cheryl44 - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 12:53 pm:

    Sheesh Lester’s, if you don’t run he won’t chase you.


    But instead of chasing you, he instead might unleash Squeezy upon you.

  19. - Bourbon Street - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 3:06 pm:

    Now that the federal district court has entered a preliminary injunction, it will be interesting to see what evidence is adduced between now and the trial date. In other words, we’ll get to see the effect of the lifting of the City’s restrictions before the case goes to trial.

    On a personal note, if I see Pat Quinn in Millennium Park on my next visit, I’m heading for the hills.

  20. - Anon - Friday, Feb 21, 20 @ 3:18 pm:

    Great job to Ed Mullen, who I suspect carried most of the heavy lifting here.

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