Thursday, September 17, 2009

Battle of Lancaster: A Draw

Courtweeterer Bob Mayo reports an apparent draw in the initial courtroom battle concerning G20 protests. District Judge Gary Lancaster ordered the city to permit Code Pink to protest at Point State Park but rejected the Thomas Merton Center's request for a similar order enabling protests on the Seventh Street Bridge and overnight camping on city parkground.

(I assume that, after determining that the city's decision to award a permit to State Sen. Jim Ferlo while denying a similar permit to Code Pink was not content-based, Judge Lancaster returned to his native planet.)

This is merely an initial skirmish, even if the Merton Center does not appeal. I understand complaints and motions filed next week are likely to be assigned to District Judge Joy Conti. I also continue to believe that Chief Judge Donetta Ambrose will participate before the war concludes.

UPDATE: The Tribune-Review's initial report describes a curious line of reasoning from Judge Lancaster:
U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster said the advance of modern technology has given activists several alternate ways to get their message to the public, so restricting their proximity to the Group of 20 economic summit doesn't violate their First Amendment right to protest the meeting. . . . In particular, a march by the Thomas Merton Center from Oakland to the City-County Building, Downtown, doesn't have to end in a rally on the Seventh Street Bridge to receive media coverage, the judge said. The protesters can also send messages directly to the public through Web sites and online videos, he said.

Viewed from that perspective, the entire giant clustermuck that is G20 Pittsburgh could have been avoided by arranging secure conference calls, video linkups, dedicated Facebook pages, special Twitter accounts and coordinated UPS delivery of goodie bags for the relevant heads of state. I do not expect Judge Lancaster's novel analytical approach to gain traction; it might not even survive an appeal.

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