A federal judge ruled Wednesday that protesters have the right to affix signs to the Government Center Plaza, but also upheld Hennepin County rules restricting their ability to use tents, chalk messages on the plaza or sleep overnight on the plaza.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle ordered the county and OccupyMPLS into settlement talks to resolve the issues.
The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the restrictions was filed earlier this week by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the group that has camped on the plaza since Oct. 7 to protest what they see as economic inequality across the nation.
The group maintains that sleeping in tents on the plaza, along with signs and chalk writings on the plaza, are forms of free speech protected by the First Amendment and that the rules adopted by the county were geared toward inhibiting their message. The county maintains that the plaza is not designed for long-term occupation and that the restrictions adopted are necessary because of safety concerns and increased security costs. One man was hospitalized for hypothermia this week.
During a hearing Friday, attorneys representing OccupyMPLS argued that the group is not looking for special treatment but treatment consistent with their rights. OccupyMPLS attorney Tim Griffin said there is no evidence of any other group that uses the public plaza having power cut off. The group has offered to pay the county for the power it uses, but the county has refused.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Dan Rogan, said the restrictions don't impede the right to protest. The new rules, approved unanimously by county commissioners, are only an effort to regain some control over the plaza, he said.
"They're right, it is the people's plaza," Rogan said, adding that it doesn't mean "whoever shows up gets to make the rules."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921