Capitol protest limits violate constitution

2011-12-07T04:30:00Z Capitol protest limits violate constitutionCap Times editorial
December 07, 2011 4:30 am  • 

Gov. Scott Walker in February admitted on Greta van Susteren’s Fox News program that he and his aides considered using agent provocateurs to create violent incidents in order to discredit protests at the state Capitol. More recently he has made it clear that he will go to any length to stifle dissent against his policies.

But the governor and his aides have gone a step too far with their scheme to bill organizers of protests at the Capitol for the cost of police protection and any damage to the building. The plan, which was outlined by the governor’s Department of Administration late last week, is part of a new policy affecting the Capitol and state buildings that has been written with the purpose of curtailing dissent and restricting what protesters can bring inside buildings.

The governor even wants to prevent bringing balloons into the Capitol — although, it should be noted, he does not want to keep loaded weapons out of the building where school groups and parents regularly bring children.

There are plenty of problems with the governor’s plan.

But the most fundamental flaw is that it is in direct conflict with the state constitution, which clearly states that it is unlawful to block access to the Capitol and to try to prevent protests.

The constitution, which Walker swore an oath to obey and defend, could not be clearer.

The constitution says in Article I, Section 4:

“The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

According to an opinion from a Wisconsin attorney general, as noted in an annotated version of the state constitution, that means the Legislature cannot prohibit an individual from entering the Capitol or its grounds.

It is hard to imagine how the governor missed the intent of the words “shall never be abridged.” But there can be no question that attempting to force peaceful protesters to pay to make their voices heard, and placing absurd restrictions on the right to express themselves, represents precisely the sort of abridgment that is barred by the constitution.

The governor’s plan is in conflict with the constitution.

The administration should drop it immediately.

If it does not, the courts must intervene.

And so, too, must the voters, who have just been given another reason to support the recall of the governor.

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