A provision of the Chicago Park District Code prohibits people from being in Chicago parks from 11 pm to 6 am. Several Defendants who were participating in Occupy Chicago were arrested after numerous warnings to vacate Grant Park during the banned hours. The charges were dismissed by the trial court, who found the ordinance unconstitutional as a violation of equal protection and right to free assembly. The City of Chicago appealed, and the appellate court recently reversed the trial court's decision, finding the ordinance constitutional. City of Chicago v. Alexander, 2015 IL App (1st) 122858-B.
First, the appellate court addressed the protesters claims that the ordinance was a violation of their First Amendment rights. Although the court acknowledged that the protesters were exercising their First Amendment rights to free expression and speech, it held that the City had the right to enact regulations on use of the parks. In this case, the park hours of operation regulation was content-neutral, applied to all City parks, and was intended to preserve the parks cleanliness and safety, a legitimate concern of the City. The court also rejected the protesters' argument that the ordinance was overbroad, finding that it only prohibits the use of City parks for 7 hours and the protesters had alternative means of conducting their expressive activity (i.e., assembling on public sidewalks) adjacent to the park. The court noted that alternative modes of communication need not be the first choice of the speaker, so long as it does not totally foreclose a speaker's ability to reach an audience. In short, the court rejected the protesters' challenges to their arrest and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf