Californians Sue Governor Over Ban on Public Protests Amid Pandemic

April 28, 2020 Updated: April 28, 2020

Two California residents are suing state Governor Gavin Newsom and other officials for effectively banning public protests during the CCP virus pandemic through the enforcement of the state’s stay-at-home orders.

The two individuals, Ron Givens and Christine Bish are challenging Newsom’s executive order signed on March 19 after their applications to use State Capitol grounds for protests were denied by the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

The CHP announced last week that they would no longer issue permits for events on state properties until the stay-at-home orders are lifted following a demonstration on April 20 to express opposition to Newsom’s orders. The CHP said the group did not follow the state’s public health guidance in its demonstrations and that “CHP will take this experience into account when considering permits for this or any other group,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

Givens and Bish, represented by The Center for American Liberty and two high-profile law firms D. Gill Sperlein and the Dhillon Law Group, are alleging that the governor’s orders are infringing on their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“By depriving Plaintiffs of their ability to hold these protests … Defendants violate fundamental rights protected by the U.S. and California Constitutions, including freedom of speech and assembly, the right to petition the government, and due process and equal protection under the law,” the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California claims.

“It is this Court’s duty to defend these constitutional principles, by safeguarding the many rights and liberties of Californians that Defendants violate.”

Givens had intended to protest the state’s failure to process background checks for firearm purchasers and employment background checks for gun stores, while Bish had planned to protest about the extent and duration of Newsom’s stay-at-home order.

The CHP denied both their applications. The agency told Givens that his application was denied because Newsom had ordered the CHP to no longer issue permits for protests as they are not allowed under the state order. Bish, on the other hand, was told that the CHP unable to “ensure proper social distancing to keep demonstrators safe,” according to the complaint.

“In times of crisis, governments often seek to curtail fundamental constitutional rights such as the right to assemble and petition the government. It is precisely at these times that those rights become the most important,” Sperlein, a lead attorney for the lawsuit, said in a statement.

Newsom addressed the protests last week, saying that he shares “the same desires and goals to reopen the economy” as the protestors but, “if you’re going to protest and express your right of free speech, do so in a way that protects not only your health but the health of others,” he said.

The governor is also facing other lawsuits over the stay-at-home orders. A group of small business owners sued Newsom and other officials alleging that the lockdown has violated the civil liberties of small businesses and caused long-term economic devastation.

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