Divided 9th Circuit panel strikes down Seattle parade-permit law

Monday, December 15, 2008

SEATTLE — A federal appeals court is raining on Seattle's parade law.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Dec. 12 that the city's ordinance governing parade permits violated the First Amendment. The majority said in Seattle Affiliate v. City of Seattle that the ordinance places too much power in the hands of police to decide whether groups are allowed to march in the street.

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Seattle chapter of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. After obtaining a permit to march in the streets in 2003, the group was told by officers that it would have to confine its march to sidewalks because it did not have enough participants to justify a street march.

The 9th Circuit majority found that to be an improper restriction on free expression. The law included no minimum number of marchers for a parade or protest, and has no guidelines for when marches should be confined to sidewalks.

Circuit Judge Sandra S. Ikuta dissented with the majority, saying, “The Seattle ordinance not only adequately constrains the Chief of Police’s discretion, but easily meets the other requirements for a valid time, place, and manner restriction.

The ACLU says the majority’s decision addresses problems that many activists have experienced in seeking to hold peaceful marches in Seattle.