Judge hears arguments in ACLU lawsuit against “Riot Boosting” laws as dozens rally in front of courthouse
RAPID CITY, S.D. — Dozens of protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Rapid City on Wednesday where a judge heard arguments in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the state’s “Riot Boosting” laws.
After protests in North Dakota over the Dakota Access pipeline cost the state an estimated $38 million to police, Gov. Noem’s administration introduced a package of pipeline bills, Senate Bill 189 and 190, designed to spread the costs associated with building the Keystone XL pipeline through South Dakota. They were signed into law in March.
A day later, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the newly-enacted law, which seeks money from those deemed to be “riot boosting,” or participating in, encouraging or funding destructive protests and that impose criminal and civil penalties. The lawsuit also takes aim at two state laws that were already in place and which make participating in or directing and soliciting others to use force or violence during a riot a felony.
Dozens of advocates for the lawsuit met at the NDN Collective office on Main Street to make signs, pray and listen to a drum group before marching to the courthouse where a rally was held.
According to Nick Tilsen, president and CEO of NDN Collective, “It’s our job as organizers, common everyday people to organize and make sure our voices are heard — to build power for the people.”
“What is happening in the courtroom today is whether or not these riot booster laws are going to continue to be enforced or whether they will continue to move forward,” said Sabrina King, a policy director with the ACLU.
The ACLU argues that the language used by the laws — particularly “riot boosting” — is too vague and therefore invites arbitrary enforcement and discrimination against peaceful protesters.
When interpreting the law, the ACLU argues the language of the law only punishes statements made during a riot, not before.
According to state representatives, the language does punish statements before that incite a riot.
The ACLU argues that if Judge Lawrence Piersol agrees with the state’s interpretation of the language, then the law itself incites only fear by discouraging speech, thus violating the first amendment.
According to Piersol, statements made by Noem regarding the legislation differ from statements made in court Wednesday by her counsel and said the state’s reading isn’t the correct reading of the statute.
Noem says the pipeline package will prevent local governments from being bankrupt by the pipeline’s construction through South Dakota, and will hold different parties accountable for their actions — whether that’s violent objectors, pipeline developers or beneficiaries of the pipeline’s construction.
“I gave my team the direction to build a plan that would protect our counties and local governments from expenses that come with pipeline construction and to protect our people from the costs and dangers that accompany violent riots,” said Noem.
After roughly two hours of testimony, no decision was made in deciding a judgement or whether the case should move to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Gov. Noem, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom are all named as defendants in the suit.
Thom is being sued because of his role in enforcing the laws. He’s since asked to be dismissed from the suit because it’s speculative to determine how he will interpret the law, but plaintiffs argue that his discretion over how to enforce the the laws matters.
Piersol questioned the plaintiffs as to why only Thom was named in the suit when there are eight other counties involved in the pipeline. They cited the location of the other plaintiffs named in the suit, which reside in Pennington County.
Piersol opted to take the request to have Thom removed from the suit under advisement.
A written decision is expected. NewsCenter1 will bring you an update when it’s available.