On May 25, 2016, the City of Cleveland through its Board of Control issued Regulations limiting speech and expressive conduct during the Republican National Convention (RNC). The Regulations’ scope encompassed 3.3-square miles of the City, bordered by the inner belt and the lake to the south and north, and by West 25th street past Cleveland State University on the west and east. Within that “Event Zone,” the Regulations limited the time, place, and manner of protected expression during the approximately four days of the Convention. Major restrictions included: a moratorium on permits for marches or parades except for one designated Parade Route where a maximum of 18 permitted groups could reserve a 50-minute slot; a moratorium on permits for assembly in other public fora except for two city parks where permitted groups could erect art installations; a prohibition on using an “object to make a public speech,” except for a stage in Public Square where permitted groups could speak for 30 minute slots; and a prohibition on carrying a list of everyday items including string, tape, tennis balls, and soup cans. In addition to creating these Regulations, the City severely delayed processing of applications for permits even for the few allowed activities, making it impossible for large groups to logistically arrange to participate.

Plaintiffs Organize Ohio and Citizens for Trump each applied for permits so that their large groups could hold marches and rallies at desired locations. Despite the passage of several months the city took no action on their permit applications. Plaintiff Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) advocated for homeless individuals fearful of being targeted under the contraband items provision of the Regulations. The ACLU sued the City of Cleveland and Mayor Jackson on behalf of these three organizational plaintiffs.

Legal Theory

Content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions on First Amendment activity must be narrowly tailored to further a significant government interest and must leave open ample alternative channels for expression. The Regulations here were not narrowly tailored to accomplish the City’s security interests in light of the serious suppression of speech they imposed. The Regulations failed to leave sufficient alternatives for the thousands of individuals who would seek to make their voices heard at this major political event. And the delay in processing permit applications—in effect denying the applications without recourse—was an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech.

Status Update

On June 14, 2016, the ACLU filed the Complaint, a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and a Motion requesting an expedited briefing schedule, in the Northern District of Ohio. Judge Gwin was assigned to the case. Judge Gwin ordered the expedited briefing schedule over Defendants’ objection and set a Preliminary Injunction hearing for June 23. The case was briefed over the next eight days. Additionally, Defendants moved to compel joinder of the RNC Committee on Arrangements, and the Committee itself moved to intervene as a defendant. We opposed both motions and the Judge denied both, leaving the City and Mayor as the only Defendants.

On June 23, 2016, Judge Gwin presided over the Preliminary Injunction hearing and ruled from the bench that each challenged aspect of the Regulations was unconstitutional. The Judge announced his intent to grant our motion for the preliminary injunction and ordered the City to redraft its regulations. Subsequently in chambers the Judge sought the parties’ agreement to mediation, and with their agreement, ordered the parties to mediation before Judge Polster. The mediation succeeded and after nine hours of negotiation concluded on the evening of June 23. The City agreed to amend its regulations on critical issues, including decreasing the size of the Event Zone; improving its designated Parade Route; exempting the City’s homeless population from prohibited items requirements; and promptly reviewing Organize Ohio’s and Citizens for Trump’s permit applications and allowing them to use desired spaces and parade routes that were unavailable to them under the city’s unconstitutional regulations.

On June 24 Judge Gwin dismissed the case but retained jurisdiction over the mediated agreement; on July 15 the parties filed their settlement agreement; and on July 18 Judge Gwin entered an order retaining jurisdiction over that agreement.

Date filed

June 14, 2016