by Kelly Simon, Legal Fellow
Yesterday, Portland activist Joe Walsh's fight for his First Amendment rights was vindicated. Last summer, Mr. Walsh was banned from attending future Portland City Council meetings for 60 days for disruptive behavior. He felt the exclusion violated his rights and took his case to federal court, representing himself pro se. Federal Judge Michael Simon agreed, finding the exclusion was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Judge Simon also struck down the ordinance the City used to create the exclusion. That ordinance gave the the Mayor broad authority and discretion to exclude, potentially indefinitely, any person in violation of any provision of the Rules of Conduct for Portland Properties, including the rule prohibiting disruption.
It was an exciting victory. However, Mr. Walsh's fight was not over yet. Earlier this month, the City Council debated whether to appeal the decision.
ACLU of Oregon Legal Director, Mat dos Santos, urged them not to appeal, testifying:
"Judge Michael Simon got it right when he held that it is unconstitutional under the First Amendment to exclude members of the public from future City Council meetings. The City of Portland has long sought to have its democratic process open and accessible to all of the members of the Portland community. We think this kind of exclusion hurts the City of Portland by creating barriers to access and transparency."
In response to this testimony and others, the Council postponed the vote. And, yesterday, the Council voted against appealing Judge Simon’s order with an eye toward expeditiously drafting a new provision that is more protective of First Amendment activity. Commissioner Saltzman was the lone dissenter.
Congratulations, Mr. Walsh, and thank you for your advocacy. We were proud to raise our voice with you in protecting the rights of Oregonians and safeguarding our democracy.