Protests in front of the White House and at other Washington, D.C. locations could be looking different if the Trump administration is able to get some rules changed.
Public comments are due by Monday for the National Park Service’s proposal to overhaul rules for protests which was released in August, according to The Hill.
But civil rights groups are arguing that the plan is unconstitutional as time runs out to publicly weigh in on the proposed changes which would push back the security perimeter.
The NPS asserts its commission to protect the land as it seeks to “provide greater clarity to the public about how and where demonstrations and special events may be conducted in a manner that protects and preserves the cultural and historic integrity of these areas.”
The plan would see most of the walkway north of the White House – which has been closed to traffic – closed to protests as well as requiring protests in the area and on the National Mall to have permits. There is also a potential to charge fees for those wanting to set up protests.
In the wake of the contentious hearings over the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, protesters descended on Capitol Hill holding demonstrations and confronting lawmakers. President Trump called out the protesters as “screamers” who were paid to demonstrate.
The paid D.C. protesters are now ready to REALLY protest because they haven’t gotten their checks – in other words, they weren’t paid! Screamers in Congress, and outside, were far too obvious – less professional than anticipated by those paying (or not paying) the bills!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2018
Critics of the proposal are pushing back.
“This administration’s come in with the most bold and consequential overhaul. The consequences are enormous,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, told The Hill.
“There’s never been such a large effort at rewriting these regulations,” she said. “I don’t think there can be any question that these revisions will have the intent and certainly the effect of stifling the ability of the public to protest.”
“If these regulations go through in current form or a substantially similar iteration, we are prepared to have them enjoined,” Verheyden-Hilliard said. “We believe that they are unconstitutional and fundamentally unsound. And moreover, they are unjustified.”
The proposed intentions “harken back to the era in which the courts had to be called upon to protect the right to dissent in the nation’s capital,” the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the National Park Service. “Many of the proposed amendments would be unconstitutional if adopted.”
The ACLU also argued that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963 in the historic March on Washington would not have happened if the proposed rules were in place then.
“National parks must be accessible and open to the American public for peaceful assembly,” Democratic lawmakers including Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva and New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“While the recuperation of costs may be an appropriate standard for special events that are celebratory or entertainment-oriented, the proposed shift could have the disastrous result of undermining the freedoms of expression and assembly — which are fundamental constitutional rights — in one of our nation’s premier public parks,” they wrote.
NPS spokesman Brent Everitt defended potential fees while inviting dialogue on the proposal.
“While we will always support the right to exercise their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly, we want to know the public’s views on whether this is an appropriate expenditure of National Park Service funds,” Everitt said in a statement.
“At this time, we want to have a genuine conversation with the public about updating a comprehensive plan to best facilitate use and enjoyment of the National Mall while preserving and protecting its monuments and memorials,” he said. “Permit fees and cost recovery considerations are just one part of that overall conversation.”