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Lawsuits & Litigation

Mississippi Faces Lawsuit Over New Law Requiring Permits for Public Protests

— June 6, 2023

The recently-passed law could make it significantly more difficult for protesters to receive permission to stage demonstrations outside of government buildings in the state capital of Jackson.

A recently-filed lawsuit seeks to prevent Mississippi from enacting a law that would require people and organizations to obtain special permits before staging protests outside of the state capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, or other government buildings in Jackson.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign and several other non-profit organizations, alleges that the new statute could have a chilling effect on state residents’ freedoms of speech and expression.

“Those who peacefully protest without state government authorization and who are charged with crimes for doing so may be prosecuted and sentenced to prison,” the complaint claims. “This chills protected speech.”

The Associated Press notes that the lawsuit names two defendants, both of whom are authorized to issue permits for protests and other events in the state capital city: Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, and Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey.

Attorneys for the Mississippi Center for Justice and the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, who are jointly representing the plaintiffs, suggest that both defendants may have different priorities than the city’s predominately Black population.

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“These two officials, both White men, will now have veto authority over protests that have included, and will continue to include, criticisms of their own expanded authority and actions as well as that of other state officials,” the lawsuit claims.

Critics of the permitting laws have said that the Republican-dominated legislature passed statutes restricting permits in an intentional effort to limit local autonomy in Jackson and surrounding Hinds County.

Both Jackson and Hinds County are predominately African-American, and are one of a very few Democratic bastions in an otherwise heavily conservative state.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs note that, while the City of Jackson currently requires that protesters obtain permits from the city government for larger-scale peaceful protests, the recently-passed laws necessitate permissions from both the city government and the state government.

However, neither existing Mississippi law nor the soon-to-be-enacted protest laws require permits for protests near government buildings in other parts of the same state.

JXN Undivided Coalition, a plaintiff in the claim, said that its members have “for years engaged in the deeply American tradition of peacefully gathering on public property to convey to elected officials what matters to us most.”

“We have spoken, and the state has responded with a sweeping prohibition of speech next to properties in Jackson occupied by state officials absent prior authorization,” JXN Undivided Coalition said in a statement reprinted, in part, by The Associated Press.

Mississippi state Sen. Joey Fillingane, a Republican, defended the protest laws by saying that they help protect the public from demonstrated-related clashes.

“Public safety is the driving force behind that section of the law because you have multiple groups on opposite sides of the issue protesting at the same time, at the same place, things can get out of hand. The law enforcement needs to have prior knowledge of that so they can beef up their security presence to accommodate all of the protestors and to ensure public safety,” Senator Fillingane said. “It’s not an issue of anyone being denied the ability to protest in front of any of the state buildings, it’s merely a factor of trying to allow our public safety, law enforcement community to be aware ahead of time so that they can have the proper security measures in place to ensure the protestors’ safety, the public’s safety, and everyone involved.”


Lawsuit claims new Mississippi law requiring approval to protest near state buildings will restrict free speech

Mississippi faces lawsuit over legislation restricting free speech near government buildings

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