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ACLU says Vista's rules on anti-Issa protesters are unconstitutional - San Diego Union-Tribune

by Joshua StewartContact Reporter

The American Civil Liberties Union says that conditions the city of Vista has placed on protesters who assemble near Rep. Darrell Issa’s district office violate free speech rights and must be removed.

Stipulations on a permit granted to Ellen Montanari for weekly protests with hundreds of people violate the First Amendment by dictating where they can assemble, and how they can deliver their message, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties said.

“By organizing a protest on a public sidewalk, Ms. Montanari is engaging in political speech that is guaranteed the highest level of protection,” said David Loy, the legal director the local chapter of the ACLU.

Vista’s spokeswoman said the city attorney had not seen the letter and could not comment. The city previously said that the conditions on the permit were added for safety concerns and in response to complaints. The city requires permits for events with more than 50 people.

For months Montanari has organized protests outside Issa’s office every Tuesday morning. The events generally last for an hour, sometimes follow a theme (this week’s was “You’re Toast”) and have been attended by as many as 800 people. Montanari applied for a permit that was initially valid through April 25, but was later extended to May 31, but came with a series of new conditions.

Montanari requested that the permit be extended, once again, through the end of the summer, but received the city’s approval to continue her protests through June 30. The conditions that the city placed on Montanari in exchange for that permit, Loy said, are illegal.

“The First Amendment protects the right of speakers — not the government — to decide where and how to speak on a public sidewalk, unless the government meets the strict test for restricting speech in a public forum, which is not the case here,” Loy wrote in a letter addressed to the Vista city attorney.

Loy said the conditions the city placed on Montanari’s permit illegally bans people from protesting on the sidewalk next to the district office on Thibodo Road (protesters, in response, moved farther away). Other requirements, including clauses that make Montanari personally financially responsible for the behavior of other people protesting and a prohibition against using amplified sound, are also unconstitutional, he said.

“In my opinion, nothing is more American than political protest,” Montanari said in a statement. “We’ve worked cooperatively with the city of Vista and law enforcement, but we will not back down from defending the First Amendment.”

Issa, a nine-term congressman, won re-election to the House last year by 1,621 votes, defeating Democrat Doug Applegate in the closest race in the country. Democrats see his district, which spans northern coastal San Diego County and southern Orange County, as one they can pick up in 2018, while the GOP is trying to maintain its long hold on the district. While the two major political parties are tuned in, various organizations have staged protests outside of Issa’s and other Republican legislators’ district offices.

Republicans have a voter registration advantage in the district, but voters have supported Democrats running for president before, including Barack Obama for president in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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