WASHINGTON – Anyone without a bleacher ticket to Thursday's Presidential Inaugural parade – namely,thousands of expected protestors and demonstrators – must settle for the leftover standing space,a federal judge ruled Thursday.
He denied one protest group's request for greater access.
Lawyers representing the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition filed a lawsuit Friday requesting an emergency ruling to allow the general public full access to the sidewalks of the 1.7-mile parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue,space the groups lawyers called a “quintessential public forum.”
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled,however,that the Presidential Inaugural Committee's permit to erect bleachers on much of Pennsylvania Avenue's sidewalks is legitimate and that opening up space that has been reserved by as many as 42,000 ticket holders would do more harm than good just two days before the first post-9/11 inaugural parade.
“At this late date,I think that issuing an injunction would be adverse to public interest,could harm the defendants,and more particularly,could create serious security risks,” Friedman said.
ANSWER Coalition lawyer Carl Messineo argued in Tuesday's expedited hearing that the inaugural committee is violating the public's 1st Amendment rights to free speech by selling bleacher tickets only to those invited by the committee,all of whom he said are family,friends or major donors to the Republican Party.
“We do not seek exclusive use of the sidewalk,” Messineo said. “We seek to end discrimination based on viewpoint.”
The ANSWER Coalition obtained a permit last week to erect its own bleachers and assemble at John Marshall Park,at 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW,directly abutting the parade route. It also received permits for eight other locations,all of which,its lawyers said,were less than desirable.
Justice Department lawyer Marina Braswell countered that the current permit system has been in place for decades and that the inaugural committee obtained its permit from the National Park Service,just as ANSWER did.
“There is no law that says a certain percent of Pennsylvania Avenue must be set aside for the general public,” she said.
Messineo said that the ANSWER Coalition had determined that 5,600 feet,or more than a mile,along the parade route is occupied by bleacher seating. Braswell provided the court a map showing the open areas that the general public may use to view the parade,but no copies were available after the hearing.
Friedman spoke for approximately half an hour in delivering his decision and made it clear that he felt rushed.
He said his decision was based on the protesters having access to John Marshall Park.,adding,“If I had more time,I would give it a lot more thought than I have.