Civil rights lawyers threatened on Thursday to sue the U.S. government agency that manages much public land in Washington, accusing it of quashing dissent by not issuing permits for protests of Republican Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.
Up to 900,000 people are expected to pack into the nation’s capital for the New York businessman’s Jan. 20 swearing-in to his first political office. Some plan to criticize Trump’s more controversial promises, including plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and deport illegal immigrants.
Only three of the more 30 groups seeking to stage rallies either protesting or celebrating Trump’s election independently of the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee have received permits.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on Thursday said it would sue the National Park Service, which manages spaces including the inaugural parade route and the grassy Ellipse near the White House, if the permits are not issued by Friday.
“Fifteen days before the inauguration, the National Park Service and the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee are stonewalling and refusing to release permits that are vitally needed by organizers in order to plan and execute peaceful, lawful free-speech activities,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the fund’s executive director, told a news conference.
The Park Service has maintained it is following a procedure in place since 2008 by turning over control of sites, including along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House, to Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee.
After the lawsuit threat, National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said the inaugural committee had withdrawn its control of the Ellipse for Jan. 21.
“We look forward to making announcements in the coming days regarding additional permits that have been issued,” Litterst said in an email. He said the agency was working with more than 30 permit applicants and was still receiving requests.
Representatives of the civil rights group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Park Service’s statement.
Three liberal groups, the ANSWER Coalition, the American Constitution Society and the Black is Back Coalition, have been permitted to hold events near the parade route, but only ANSWER was granted one for Inauguration Day.
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Protesters will be among the 800,000 to 900,000 people who Chris Geldart, the District of Columbia’s homeland security director, estimates will attend Trump’s swearing-in.
Some 3,000 police officers and 7,000 National Guard troops from outside the District will be on hand to help provide security, Geldart said in a phone interview.
The biggest inauguration protest, the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, will go on regardless of the dispute since it will be held on city streets.
At least one protest could come with a cloud of marijuana smoke, as the DCMJ pro-pot lobbying group, which spearheaded the legalization of the drug in Washington in 2015, plans to distribute 4,200 joints near the inaugural site.
Smoking marijuana along the parade route would violate the laws of both the District of Columbia – which allows it only in private spaces – and the federal government, which bans it outright.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)