Group Sues Over Denial of Permit to Protest at Courthouse

A group that is planning to protest at a Manhattan courthouse around the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which eliminated barriers to corporations’ political speech and spending, sued federal officials on Wednesday after its request for a permit to gather was denied.

Lawyers for protesters who had applied for the permit, as part of a campaign organized by a group called Move to Amend, which seeks to reverse the Citizens United decision, filed the suit, saying the denial of permission to hold a rally on Friday outside the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street, in Lower Manhattan, was unconstitutional. In the suit, the lawyers ask a judge to grant an injunction requiring the agency to issue a permit.

Organizers with Move to Amend, which seeks to amend the Constitution to “firmly establish that money is not speech,” plan demonstrations outside more than 100 federal courthouses in 46 states on Friday, in cities like Baltimore, Seattle and St. Louis. And a gathering is planned outside the Supreme Court building in Washington.

The group’s Web site describes the day as a “nationwide protest against corporate personhood” called “Occupy the Courts.” In many cities, people associated with encampments inspired by Occupy Wall Street helped organize the rallies.

Arrangements had been worked out with officials in 118 cities, organizers said, all where protests were planned except Bryson City, N.C., and New York.

In New York, the permit application, requesting permission for 200 demonstrators to assemble outside the courthouse’s Pearl Street entrance, was submitted on Dec. 29 to the federal agency, the Government Services Administration. The man who sent the application, Jarret Wolfman, said that an official there, Wesley C. French, told him that that new citizens would be sworn in at the courthouse that morning and that a judge would be installed during an afternoon ceremony.

Mr. French denied the application on Friday with a letter citing events planned at the courthouse that day. “The activity proposed in your application will interfere with these events,” he wrote. “Consequently we are denying your application.”

A lawyer for the protesters, Gideon O. Oliver, filed an appeal on Monday with the agency, writing that the denial was unreasonable and exceeded the government’s authority to regulate speech. He said the agency did not respond.

Officials at the Government Services Administration could not immediately be reached for comment.

In the lawsuit filed on Wednesday, Mr. Oliver and other lawyers wrote that the agency “had provided no information about the ways in which Occupy the Courts might relate to or potentially interfere with” other events taking place inside the courthouse.

David Cobb, a spokesman for Move to Amend, said that it was important for people to be able to air their views on the Citizens United decision, made in January 2010, outside federal courthouses and added that officials in New York had “forced an unnecessary confrontation over the people’s right to assemble.”

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