GOP convention protests could generate many constitutional issues, experts say
To get an idea of how knotty the constitutional issues arising from protests at Republican National Convention could get, consider the hypothetical example put to a panel of experts Tuesday night.
An anarchist group contacts the city a week before the convention and says it wants to bring 2,000 of its members to Tampa to gather at one of the city's biggest parks, then march along downtown's busiest street on the first day of the convention.
Under the city's proposed rules for the convention, would it need to apply for a permit from the city? If so, could the city process that application in time?
Yes and yes, said City Attorney Jim Shimberg Jr., one of the panelists assembled for a "Know Your Rights" forum organized by the American Civil Liberties Union.
It would be likely, though, that the city would direct the group to the official parade route, which has not been set.
Now suppose this hypothetical anarchist group advocated a violent overthrow of the government and posted photos of its members carrying baseball bats at past conventions on its website. Would that be reason to deny the permit?
"That's a much more difficult First Amendment question," Stetson University College of Law associate professor Louis Virelli said. "I think it's very difficult to prohibit or deny a permit based on sentiments expressed on the website, even if they're violent."
What's more, Shimberg said, the city does not plan to make decisions on permits on that basis. Tampa's proposed permitting rules for the convention say officials "shall not consider the content of the beliefs expressed or anticipated to be expressed during the assembly," or the identity of a group applying for a parade or assembly permit.
That, however, was only one of a half-dozen or more tricky constitutional or procedural dilemmas that could arise from the convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30.