Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Friday, May 19, 2006

Nall Campaign Update

From Hammer of Truth:

Sorry for not blogging anything today, but we've got a serious problem going on in Birmingham with the Loretta Nall ballot access drive in Alabama. The police are now demanding IDs and telling our petitioners they can't collect signatures on public property (in this case, a sidewalk on a state university campus). We are going to talk to the police right now and see if we can sort this out.

All I know is what you just read. And this:

There is no doubt that as a general matter peaceful picketing and leafletting are expressive activities involving speech protected by the First Amendment. . . . It is also true that public places historically associated with the free exercise of expressive activities, such as streets, sidewalks, and parks, are considered, without more, to be public forums. In such places, the government's ability to permissibly restrict expressive conduct is very limited: the government may enforce reasonable time, place, and manner regulations as long as the restrictions are content-neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.

The Supreme Court decision from which this quote is taken - U.S. v. Grace - held that the sidewalks abutting the Supreme Court building were public places and that a statute prohibiting "signs, banners or devices" on those sidewalks was unconstitutional.

UAB's sidewalks, like those at issue in Grace, "are indistinguishable from other public sidewalks in the city that are normally open to the conduct that is at issue here." So, unless the city comes up with a better excuse than did the government in Grace, the result ought to be the same in this situation.