Madison marijuana activist Ben Masel filed a lawsuit Wednesday calling into question the need for permits to hold demonstrations at the state Capitol.
The lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, seeks to bar the state Department of Administration and Capitol Police from enforcing what DOA claims to be long-standing policies and procedures for holding events, such as the weeks of demonstrations against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, at state buildings.
“They weren’t enforced up until recently on the Capitol grounds,” said Masel’s lawyer, Jeff Scott Olson. “For a long time it’s been the settled situation based on prior court decisions that you did not need a permit to engage in expressive activity at the Capitol grounds.”
State Department of Justice spokesman Bill Cosh said the department has not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment.
The lawsuit does not specifically mention the recent demonstrations at the Capitol, but states that it was brought by Masel because he “wishes to engage in expressive activities” on the Capitol grounds, sometimes alone and sometimes as part of large groups, such as the annual Marijuana Harvest Festival that he organizes each year.
The suit alleges that the permit policies and procedures violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and corresponding sections of the state constitution because they create a prior restraint on free speech and impose unreasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of expressive activity on the Capitol grounds.
The lawsuit also alleges that the policies and procedures are vague and overbroad, give DOA “unbridled discretion” as to which permits will be granted, fail to provide judicial review of denied permits and require permit holders to pay for state personnel, including “extra police officers,” among other constitutional claims.