The “Impeach Obama” banners that have appeared on overpasses across the United States could return to Dallas in the wake of a federal judge’s acceptance of a consent judgment in which the city admitted its rules violated the First Amendment.
The city adopted fines of up to $500 for “certain expressive activities on pedestrian overpasses over designated highways.”
The restrictions, however, have been eliminated by a final consent judgment signed by U.S. District Judge David Godbey.
His ruling, signed Monday, said judgment was entered in favor of the protesters and against the city. He decided the city should pay a $1 penalty in the case but also nearly $25,000 in legal fees and costs.
“The nominal damages award represents a legal determination that plaintiffs suffered a deprivation of constitutional rights,” he wrote.
The legal team brought the case about a year ago on behalf of the North Dallas Chapter of Overpasses for America and its leader, Valerie Villarreal.
The case claimed the city was restricting the plaintiffs’ right to demonstrate and display signs “calling for the impeachment of President Obama and the end to illegal immigration on city overpasses over designated highways,” the law firm said.
Godbey’s ruling was “the first time the city of Dallas admitted its ordinance was an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”
“It is a good day for free speech,” said Erin Mersino, the senior trial counsel for Thomas More who handled the case.
“Overpasses for America and Valeria Villarreal may now resume their important demonstrations without fear of being fined or retaliated against by the city.”
The Dallas City Council repealed the ordinance only a few months after the case was filed.
During that process, however, the city declined to acknowledge that the ordinance unconstitutionally attacked free speech.
Before the ordinance was imposed, the North Dallas Chapter of Overpasses for America had held more than 75 demonstrations of pedestrian overpasses in Dallas without a single traffic incident.
Overpasses for America is a nonpartisan grassroots movement that calls for accountability from the nation’s leaders.
Its members often use pedestrian overpasses to spread their messages and to reach a large and diverse audience.
“The concerns of a majority of Americans on crucial issues have little impact on the Washington political establishment,” said TMLC President Richard Thompson. “That’s why it’s so important to defend the free speech rights of grassroots organizations like Overpasses for America, whose members feel it’s their patriotic duty to get their message out and mobilize their fellow citizens.”
The legal team also is representing two people in a similar case against the town of Campbell, Wisconsin, that is before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
WND reported the ordinance made it an offense to engage in any conduct, including holding a sign, intended to distract a motorist. It also barred wearing any clothing intended to attract the attention of the public.
But the lawsuit alleged the speech ban was an unconstitutional burden on plaintiffs’ rights, was overbroad and vague, failed to further public interests and had silenced the activists’ speech.
It alleged violations freedom of speech and the right to peaceable assembly.