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ACLU celebrates settlement ending unconstitutional efforts to silence pipeline protesters in South Dakota

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“Let this be a lesson to other states: If you criminalize protest, we will sue.”

The ACLU and environmental activists celebrated Thursday after reaching a settlement agreement with South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Jason Ravnesborg to end what critics called “their unconstitutional attempts to silence pipeline protestors.”

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“We will celebrate this win but remain vigilant against further government attempts to outlaw our right to peacefully assemble.”
—Dallas Goldtooth, IEN

The settlement is a result of a lawsuit filed by the national ACLU, the group’s state chapter, and the Robins Kaplan law firm challenging provisions from various state laws, including South Dakota’s “Riot Boosting Act, which threatened activists with up to 25 years in prison. It follows a federal court ruling last month that temporarily blocked enforcement of the provisions.

“The state’s anti-protest efforts were plainly unconstitutional,” Stephen Pevar, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said in a statement Thursday.

“This settlement helps ensure that no one has to fear the government coming after them for exercising their First Amendment right to protest,” he said. “This settlement should also serve as a lesson for other legislatures considering similar anti-protest efforts.”

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The contested provisions of South Dakota’s laws are part of a trend of recently enacted, highly controversial legislation in a number of Republican-controlled states to criminalize protests, particularly those targeting “critical infrastructure” such as fossil fuel pipelines.

As ACLU staff attorney Vera Eidelman explained in a blog post Thursday:

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In the last few years, we have witnessed a legislative trend of states seeking to criminalize protest, deter political participation, and curtail freedom of association. These bills appear to be a direct reaction from politicians and corporations to some of the most effective tactics of those speaking out today, including water protectors challenging pipeline construction, Black Lives Matter, and those calling for boycotts of Israel. These legislative moves are aimed at suppressing dissent and undercutting marginalized and over-policed groups voicing concerns that disrupt current power dynamics.

In South Dakota specifically, several environmental and Indigenous groups—including those involved in the lawsuit that led to the settlement—have spent years protesting the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

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Brendan Johnson, a partner with the Robins Kaplan law firm, said Thursday that “by equating peaceful organization and support of protest with ‘riot boosting’ and incitement to riot, the government stifled our clients’ abilities to speak out against the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“By equating peaceful organization and support of protest with ‘riot boosting’ and incitement to riot, the government stifled our clients’ abilities to speak out against the Keystone XL pipeline.”
—Brendan Johnson, attorney

Johnson’s firm and the ACLU represented the Sierra Club, Dakota Rural Action, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and NDN Collective, as well as two individuals from those groups.

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“South Dakota knew these laws couldn’t stand up to our legal challenge so rather than face embarrassment they decided to capitulate,” one of the individual plaintiffs, IEN’s Dallas Goldtooth, said of the settlement, which still needs final approval from a federal court.

“We will celebrate this win,” Goldtooth added, “but remain vigilant against further government attempts to outlaw our right to peacefully assemble.”

The other individual plaintiff, Nick Tilsen of NDN Collective, called the state’s Riot Boosting Act “an insult to the Constitution and an attempt to muzzle the voices of the people and our movement to defend Mother Earth.”

“This settlement accomplishes everything that we set out do with the lawsuit and makes the temporary injunction a permanent one,” said Tilsen. “Onward, we will continue to fight for air, land, water, and our rights.”

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Pre-construction activities are already underway for the Keystone XL pipeline, which when completed would carry up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Alberta tar sands, across Montana and South Dakota, to Nebraska.

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Britain starts hearing US case for extraditing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

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Britain on Monday starts hearing Washington's extradition request for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a test case of media freedoms in the digital age and the limits of US justice.

A ruling against Assange in the case could see the 48-year-old Australian jailed for 175 years if convicted on all 17 US Espionage Act charges and one count of computer hacking he faces.

Each stems from his site's release in 2010 of a trove of classified State Department and Pentagon files detailing the realities of the US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One video from 2007 showed an Apache helicopter attack in which US soldiers gunned down two Reuters reporters and nine Iraqi civilians in broad daylight in Baghdad.

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‘No one cares’: Quarantined Wuhan residents must adapt to find food despite coronavirus

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The lockdown of Guo Jing's neighbourhood in Wuhan –- the city at the heart of China's new coronavirus epidemic –- came suddenly and without warning.

Unable to go out, the 29-year-old is now sealed inside her compound where she has to depend on online group-buying services to get food.

"Living for at least another month isn't an issue," Guo told AFP, explaining that she had her own stash of pickled vegetables and salted eggs.

But what scares her most is the lack of control -- first, the entire city was sealed off, and then residents were limited to exiting their compound once every three days.

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South Korea on frontline as deadly coronavirus spreads further outside of China

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The deadly coronavirus epidemic spread further outside China on Monday as a surge of infections in South Korea made it the biggest hotspot abroad, while authorities in Europe and the Middle East battled to curb outbreaks.

The number of fatalities in China also continued to soar, with 150 more confirmed deaths taking the official death toll to nearly 2,600.

Chinese authorities insist they are making progress in containing the virus, citing slowing infection rates thanks to unprecedented travel lockdowns and quarantines in or near the outbreak's epicentre.

But a rising number of new cases and deaths in other parts of the world have deepened fears about a potential pandemic, with South Korea, Italy and Iran emerging over the past week on the frontlines.

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