UPDATE: On April 21, 2021, the court resolved the case by entering a consent order that will prevent future First Amendment violations by Alamance County officials against peaceful protesters.
The American Civil Liberties Union together with a coalition of civil rights groups filed an emergency lawsuit against the city of Graham, North Carolina, seeking to immediately block a city ordinance that the government used to suppress protests against racism, police brutality, and white supremacy. The city most recently used the ordinance to quash protests against the city’s only Confederate monument. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the NAACP Alamance chapter and individual protesters.
The ordinance, which mirrors a law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down more than 50 years ago, is one of the most speech-restrictive laws nationwide. It makes it illegal for two people to be outside together, and even one person to walk alone, without a permit for the purposes of protesting or “making known any position or thought.”
The civil rights groups asserted that the ordinance violates the First Amendment and gives the government sweeping discretion to suppress speech based on its content — including on the basis of how listeners are likely to respond. When the city responded the ordinance shortly after the plaintiffs filed suit, plaintiffs amended their complaint to challenge ongoing practices by the city and county that limited their ability to protest on the historic courthouse grounds adjoining the Confederate monument.
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of North Carolina, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Scott Holmes and the Lockamy Law Firm, and the Law Office of Thomas W. Cadwallader in federal court for the Middle District of North Carolina. It seeks preliminary relief blocking the city from implementing the order while the underlying First Amendment challenge proceeds.