Judge Puts Democratic Convention Lawsuit on ‘Fast-Track’

A U.S. District Court judge has ordered the city of Denver and the Secret Service agency to respond within 10 days to an American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado lawsuit over security plans during the Democratic National Convention in August.

The ACLU is seeking information pertaining to where parade routes will be located, the number of times parades will be permitted and procedures connected to demonstration zones adjacent to the Pepsi Center, where the convention will be held.

The ACLU filed its lawsuit Friday morning on behalf of 12 groups who are planning to hold parades and demonstrations during the convention. That afternoon, District Judge Marcia S. Krieger gave the city and federal officials 10 business days to respond. Judge Krieger has not yet set a court date, which would be the next step in the process.

“It’s not clear how the judge is going to proceed,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado. “But the fact that the judge wanted a response right away indicates that the judge agrees that the case needs to be moved on a fast-track and that the concerns being articulated in our papers should get attention.”

Silverstein said his group filed the suit over concerns regarding First Amendment violations that happened at the Democratic convention in Boston in 2004, where so-called protester “free-speech zones” — which consisted of concrete barricades and fencing — were set up outside the security perimeter of the convention site.

A Boston judge ruled that the zones were unconstitutional less than a month before the 2004 convention, but said that there was not enough time to change the plans. As a result, thousands of protesters were prevented from getting close enough to the official proceedings for conventioneers to hear their message.

This year Denver officials have said a parade route will be designated during the Aug. 25-28 convention. But they have not identified any of those routes or areas where demonstrators or other activists will be allowed – and parade permits that have been submitted for the event have yet to be approved.

Activists have been meeting with city officials to discuss such issues since last summer.

After the ACLU announced its lawsuit on Friday, Denver City Attorney David Fine released a statement indicating that no group has been denied a parade permit and that there will be a “vigorous exercise of free speech” during the convention in “many ways and in many places.”

However, Silverstein noted that the ACLU’s lawsuit is designed to force the city and Secret Service to disclose the specifics of the parade routes – including exactly where and where demonstrators and others will be allowed to gather.

“The people who are not delegates, the people who want to participate in demonstrations and protests to communicate their views shouldn’t be treated like they’re some kind of irritating meddling interlopers,” Silverstein said. “Their participation is equally a part of our democratic life and the government actors–the city and the Secret Service–have to treat their right to peaceful expression with the same respect that the delegate’s rights receive.”

The city and federal officials have until May 16 to respond.

The Plaintiffs

The following organizations filed the suit in federal court on Friday against the city of Denver and the U.S. Secret Service.

American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado

A statewide nonprofit organization that works to defend civil liberties in Colorado.

American Friends Service Committee

A Quaker-founded group headquarter in Philadelphia, Penn. that works on a variety of social justice issues relating to militarism and poverty. The organization also has a local office in Denver.

American Indian Movement of Colorado

A group dedicated to promoting the rights and opportunities for American Indians in Colorado.

Americans for Safe Access

A member-based organization of patients and medical professionals that promotes safe and legal access to cannabis. The group is based in Oakland, Calif., but also has a chapter in Colorado.

Citizens for Obama

An effort by Barack Obama supporter Damian Sedney, a Vermont resident who plans to organize a large parade supporting the presidential nomination of Obama.


A national women-initiated organization that is working to end the war in Iraq and redirect resources into healthcare and education. The group also has a chapter in Denver.

Escuela Tlatelolco Centro De Estudios

A private school in Denver founded to provide an alternative education to Chicano and Mexicano youth and to support issues affecting the indigenous and immigrant communities.

Recreate 68

A coalition of national and local activist groups who plan to protest the war and support other social justice issues during the convention. The organization is based in Colorado.

Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

A group based in Boulder, Colo. dedicated to supporting human rights and the environment to create a culture of justice and peace.

Tent State University

A organization focusing on higher education  policies that encourages students and community members to set up tents and build an alternative university setting. The group was founded in New Jersey.

Troops Out Now Coalition

A national coalition of anti-war activists and community organizers based in New York City that supports the immediate military withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

United for Peace and Justice

A national nonprofit organization based in New York City that works to end the Iraq war though state and local member groups.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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