First Amendment Lawsuit Gets Green Light From 11th Circuit

Amnesty International USA Will Get Its Day In Court

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU of Florida today, finding that a 2006 lawsuit filed on behalf of Amnesty International "properly states a valid claim alleging a violation of its First Amendment rights."

The ACLU of Florida filed the federal lawsuit in June, 2006, alleging that police officers from Miami-Dade and the City of Miami prevented members of the human rights organization from exercising their constitutional right to assemble and protest, despite having obtained a permit from the City of Miami Police Department. Members of Amnesty International's Miami Chapter had a permit to assemble, but police officers prohibited anyone from gathering or entering downtown Miami that day.

"It is a sad day when police stifle free speech by a peaceful group of protesters shedding light on grave human rights abuses in our hemisphere. I'm glad that we will be able to move forward and send a message that these types of violations are unacceptable in a free society," said Jessica Carvalho Morris of Amnesty International's Miami Chapter. "The police were able to protect public order without violating our constitutional rights; instead they trampled on our rights. Police officers must work within the confines of the law too, and they need to be held accountable when they violate people's rights."

The appeals court said in its ruling that "There can be no doubt that it is the long-standing and clearly established law of this nation that the government may not grant a permit to a political group instructing it where and when it may assemble, speak and petition with one hand, and then, at the last moment, completely deny the organization the opportunity to utilize that very permit with the other hand. And there can be no doubt that police conduct knowingly designed to so utterly eviscerate fundamental expressive freedoms would violate clearly established constitutional law."

"The 11th Circuit has spoken and the First Amendment is still alive," said Louis Jepeway, ACLU cooperating counsel. "We are thrilled that the appeals court is allowing this important case to advance, and we look forward to proving that Amnesty International's rights were violated."

The lawsuit is one of seven brought by the ACLU as a result of police actions that stifled protest activities during the November 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) events in Miami. Although Amnesty International took no position on the FTAA treaty itself, the peaceful protests were planned to bring attention to human rights abuses in the Americas.

Read the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in PDF.

The original legal complaint is also available in PDF.

The case, Amnesty International USA v. Louis Battle and Thomas Cannon, was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division. ACLU cooperating attorneys are Louis M. Jepeway, Jr. and Richard K. Houlihan, Esq.