August 12, 2005
Washington, DC – The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) today welcomed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit declaring unconstitutional a Dearborn, Michigan, city ordinance. The ordinance made it a crime to protest or march in a parade unless a permit is obtained at least 30 days prior to an event.
In January 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU-MI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of ADC, a national civil rights organization with offices in Dearborn, and Mr. Imad Chammout, a Dearborn resident and business owner, against the city of Dearborn. The lawsuit challenged the city’s prosecution of Chammout under the ordinance. Chammout was prosecuted for participating in a march without a permit. The charges carried a potential penalty of 90 days in prison and a $500 fine.
Today’s 6th Circuit Court decision, made by a three-judge panel, reversed an earlier District Court decision granting summary judgment in favor of the City of Dearborn. According to US Circuit Court Judge Donald P. Lay(* see note below), who wrote the opinion, “The city of Dearborn’s Ordinance suffers from a number of constitutional infirmities. A more carefully crafted ordinance that strikes the proper balance between the city’s significant interests and the exercise of First Amendment freedoms is needed.”
In analyzing the 30-day notice requirement, the Court said, “Such a substantial inhibition on speech cannot be justified by the city council’s failure to respond to requests in a more timely fashion.”
ADC Michigan Director Imad Hamad, said, “Today’s ruling is a victory for the First Amendment and every person wishing to exercise their Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, expression, and association.” Hamad added, “This ruling is a victory against those who may wish to use the current climate to restrict the very freedoms we are fighting to protect.”
Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU-MI said, “The court issued a wonderful decision vindicating the right of people in this country to participate in protest marches at a time when they can most affect public policy.”
The Court said, “Our analysis is guided by the fact that parades and processions are a unique and cherished form of political expression, serving as a symbol of our democratic tradition,” the Court continued, “there is scarcely a more powerful form of expression than the political march . . . .It is intended to provoke a motive and spontaneous action, and this is where its virtue lies. As it progresses, it may stir the sentiments and sympathies of those it passes, causing fellow citizens to join in the procession as a statement of solidarity.”
To read the 2003 complaint click on: http://aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/dearborncomplaint.pdf
To read the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision click on: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/05a0340p-06.pdf
*Circuit Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation to hear this case.