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Federal Judge Rules Chicago Disorderly Conduct Ordinance Unconstitutional

US District Judge John Grady ruled Friday that a significant part of the Chicago’s Disorderly Conduct Ordinance was an unconstitutional violation of freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution according to the Chicago Coalition Against War (CCAWR.)

Chicago Police have repeatedly used the ordinance to harass anti-war protesters. Disorderly Conduct arrests of protesters have been a problem for Chicago since 1968 when the matter came before the US Supreme Court.

The latest ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by Donald Goldhamer and Robin Schirmer after charges against the two were dismissed in a Chicago court. Goldhamer, Schirmer and five others were arrested on July 2, 2006 after distributing leaflets at the Taste of Chicago Festival in Grant Park near an armed forces recruiting booth.

The ordinance allows the police to arrest individuals who fail to follow an order to disperse even when engaging in lawful, peaceful First Amendment activities. Goldhamer and Schirmer were arrested after refusing to follow a police order to disperse and cease leafleting. Goldhamer and Schirmer filed suit seeking to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional because it violated their First Amendment rights after the charges were dismissed in state court.

The suit charged that the disorderly conduct ordinance was unconstitutional because it gave the police too much discretion to curtail lawful First Amendment activities such as freedom of expression through peaceful leafleting. Judge Grady held that the ordinance was vague precisely because it gave the police too much discretion to curtail lawful protest.

The Chicago Police Department have used the ordinance to disperse lawful assemblies by arresting people and forcing others to leave under threat of arrest. In 2005, a press conference convened by anti-war organizers on the 2nd anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq was dispersed by police in this manner. Another suit (Andy Thayer and Brad Lyttle v. City of Chicago, et al) is pending on this matter.

Copies of both suits and Judge Grady’s ruling can be found at:

Goldhamer, Schirmer, Thayer and Lyttle are represented by Charles Nissim-Sabat and Jeffrey Frank from the National Lawyers Guild; Kurt Feuer Attorney at Law; and Elizabeth Wang from the law firm of Loevy & Loevy. Contact the attorneys at: Jeffrey Frank, 312.206.5253; Elizabeth Wang, 312.243.5900

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