A University of Wisconsin professor and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit against Capitol Police over their permitting process Monday.
UW medical physics professor Michael Kissick and ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal courts against Capitol Police Chief David Erwin and Michael Huesbch, secretary of the Department of Administration, who oversees the Capitol Police.
The lawsuit revolves around a DOA policy that requires a permit to protest in the Capitol, which has led to some violators receiving tickets.
ACLU said in a statement the goal of the lawsuit is to prevent the DOA from using permits to stop Capitol demonstrations and to cease punishing protesters for not having a permit, which they argue violates the First Amendment.
According to Kissick’s lawsuit, people need permits for any “performance, ceremony, presentation, meeting or rally” in the Capitol. The only people permitted in the Capitol without a permit are tourists, people visiting the Capitol, visitors of elected officials or people traveling to legislative, executive or judicial offices.
“The permit scheme contained in the Access Policy treats applicants for permits differently based on the content of their proposed expressive events,’” the lawsuit said.
DOA spokesperson Stephanie Marquis said the department is still reviewing the case.
The DOA said in a statement the process has been in place since 1979 and does not prevent the Capitol from becoming a public forum, only to ensure coordination.
“Both state and federal court cases have found that permit requirements are constitutional and do not infringe on free speech,” the DOA statement said. “All groups must follow the permitting process, and the Capitol Police issue hundreds of permits each year regardless of political party, affiliation or content.”
Marquis emphasized the Capitol is meant to be a place where people can come and express their opinions.
She said all groups that apply for permits are treated equally and given the opportunity to reserve space without the threat of being cited.
“The Capitol is meant to be enjoyed and utilized by everyone, and the permitting process ensures that all citizens of Wisconsin can use that space,” Marquis said.
Marquis also pointed to eight other states that require permit access and four others that require demonstrators to reserve or schedule the Capitol in advance.
Larry Dupuis, the ACLU lawyer in charge of the case, said in an email Capitol authorities have a “legitimate interest” in coordinating multiple groups that want to use space. He said they should stop the permit process and get a reservation system instead, where protesters can use a table or the rotunda with a reservation if no one else is using it.
“There is no need to force very small groups to fill out an application and punish them when they engage in peaceful, non-disruptive protest in a large public space like the Capitol rotunda and no one else is using the space,” Dupuis said in the email.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said in a statement she also praised ACLU for joining the lawsuit to protect the free speech that Erwin and Huebsch have “trampled.”