Court Hearing Set for this Friday (May 15) in Lawsuit Challenging Mayor de Blasio’s Suspension of the First Amendment

(New York – May 12, 2020) – Today, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), a national public interest law firm, filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner.

The AFLC-filed motion asks Judge Denise Cote to issue an immediate order forbidding Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Police Department from preventing public group protests in the City.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of political activist Pamela Geller, challenges Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement that, pursuant to his executive orders, the First Amendment no longer applies in the City of New York as he has made it unlawful to peaceably assemble and protest.

Geller is an author, a conservative blogger, and champion for the First Amendment.  In addition to successfully challenging government restrictions on free speech in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Seattle, she was the organizer of the successful public protest of the Ground Zero mosque construction in Lower Manhattan.

But for Mayor de Blasio’s suspension of the First Amendment, Geller would organize and participate in a public protest of de Blasio’s anti-Jewish bias and against his policies, including the draconian restrictions he has imposed upon fundamental liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As set forth in the motion papers:

“The right to freedom of speech is not a right to catharsis.  It is a right to meaningfully protest and assemble in public in order to change public policy.  The most effective way to exercise this right is to organize and participate in a public protest—there is no adequate alternative to this method of expressing opposition to the government, its officials, and their policies.  Our nation’s history and experience with the civil rights movement bears this out.  Defendants, through the adoption and enforcement of executive edicts, have suspended this fundamental right in the City of New York . . .

 Paraphrasing from the Supreme Court’s opinion in Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971): ‘In times of unrest, whether caused by crime or racial conflict or fear of internal subversion [or fear of a pandemic], this basic law [the First Amendment] and the values that it represents may appear unrealistic or “extravagant” to some.  But the values were those of the authors of our fundamental constitutional concepts.’”

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi commented:

“Mayor de Blasio and his police commissioner tell New Yorkers that they may move about outdoors, exercise, and walk their pet poodles, but if they do nothing more than exercise their right to free speech with other like-minded New Yorkers, even if they carefully observe social distancing and face mask protocols, they will be issued a criminal summons or arrested.  This is the classic definition of tyranny.”

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise added:

Indeed, tyranny has a new name; it is called a pandemic.  And top on the list of tyrants is the dictator de Blasio, who has now turned every public forum for free speech in the City of New York into Tiananmen Square.  He apparently will do everything in his power to stifle opposition to his unlawful policies, including suspending the First Amendment.  It is time now for the judicial branch to exercise its power and do its duty by upholding our Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees against this insatiable quest for power by our political elites.”

The presiding judge, the Honorable Denise Cote, has ordered the City to file any opposition to our motion by 5 pm, Thursday, May 14th, and she set a hearing via Skype for Business video conference for Friday, May 15th at 4 pm.

The public and the media are invited to attend the hearing.  Instructions may be found in the Court’s order, which is available here.