BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge issued a ruling Wednesday barring Idaho from removing tents used by Occupy Boise protesters on state grounds.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in a decision released one day after listening to oral arguments that the around-the-clock tent ban violated the group's First Amendment rights.
The decision is the latest in the lawsuit against Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter that was first filed in 2012 after the governor approved a camping ban on state land designed to evict protesters involved with the Occupy Boise movement.
Over the past two years, the court found that Idaho lawmakers passed seven unconstitutional rules restricting the protesters from camping on state-owned property. The Idaho Legislature revoked those rules during the 2014 session, making that part of the Occupy Boise lawsuit moot.
Winmill has previously ruled that Idaho can bar overnight camping on state grounds but limiting political protests violates the U.S. Constitution.
Winmill added that Idaho has a history of targeting the Occupy protesters. When Otter signed eviction rules in 2012, he issued an order to remove the Occupy tents from state property close to the Capitol. Under the same order, the Idaho State Police carried out a plan called "Operation De-Occupy Boise" to remove the protesters' items.
"Given the state's history of targeting Occupy, and no definitive statement from the agencies of any change in that policy, there is a real threat that the state could use that discretion to undermine Occupy's protests even while ostensibly following the general dictates of the court's decision," Winmill wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho lauded the latest court decision.
"This has been a long and costly battle over liberties that the State should treasure, not suppress," said Richard Eppink, legal director of the ACLU of Idaho and Occupy Boise's attorney, in a statement. "Let's hope this permanent injunction gets our elected leaders to stop and think, and to start welcoming dissent, rather than trying to squelch it."
The Occupy Boise encampment was first erected near the old Ada County Courthouse's grounds in November 2011 following the national movement of protests expressing discontent with the government's failure to protect U.S. citizens from the housing bubble's collapse while bailing out Wall Street.
One year later, Idaho Republicans argued that the prolonged protests were inappropriate and were creating a highly visible mess next to where the lawmakers were meeting. GOP lawmakers attempted to limit the activities by passing a law permitting the protesters to be forcibly removed. Winmill eventually ruled that the Legislature violated protected free speech laws.
In 2013, the Idaho Legislature once again sought new laws targeting the Occupy movement by putting time limits on overnight protests, resulting in a ruling where Winmill once again found the laws unconstitutional.
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