Williams v Powell
Today, the ACLU of Georgia filed an amicus brief with the Georgia Supreme Court on behalf of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Georgia Equality, Georgia STAND UP, Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates and the Southern Poverty Law Center. arguing that a Georgia criminal statute, O.C.G.A. § 16-11-34.1(a), (f), (g), is unconstitutional under the state constitution’s expansive protections of Freedom of Speech.
Specifically, while the statute criminalizes the disruption of legislative meetings in the State Capitol Building, it also unconstitutionally criminalizes expressions of speech in the State Capitol Building even when they do not disrupt anything. The Georgia Constitution affirmatively guarantees that “Every person may speak, write, and publish sentiments on all subjects.”
The highest courts of ten other states that have similar provisions in their state constitutions have agreed that this language provides greater protections than the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections.
“Georgians must be able to speak their minds in the state capitol building, the seat of our democracy,” said Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Our amicus brief asks the Georgia Supreme Court to enforce the robust speech protections of the state constitution and strike down this overbroad criminal statute.”
During a protest in November 2018, Capitol Police arrested then-State Sen. Nikema Williams and several voter rights advocates in the rotunda of the State Capitol building. The state law under which the Capitol Police made these arrests bans any speech that “may reasonably be expected to prevent or disrupt a session or meeting of the Senate or House of Representatives, a joint session thereof, or any meeting of any standing or interim committee, commission, or caucus of members thereof,” as well as any “loud” or “abusive language” in the State Capitol Building.
Sen. Williams and the other voter rights advocates filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that this statute violates both U.S. and Georgia Constitutions. However, the federal district court sent the case to the Georgia Supreme Court requesting that the Georgia court first rule whether the state statute violates the state constitution.
October 25, 2021
ACLU of Georgia