Federal Court OK’s Rally Ban at State Capitol Despite CHP’s Checkered Protest Past

By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO – The California Highway Patrol’s permit process for Capitol Park – a sprawling green space surrounding the State Capitol with a rose garden, war memorials and a prime site of rallies, protests, and weddings – has always had its problems.

COVID-19 brought some of those problems to the forefront last week.

But you can’t blame everything on the virus. There was the riot there about three years ago between neo Nazi and anti-fascist groups that led to at least nine hospitalizations from knife and other attacks – and the questions of why the CHP, with an estimated 200 city and state officers at the ready, did absolutely nothing to intervene remain until this day.

And then there are the bizarre, seemingly unconstitutional, “rules” that prevent any activity that may garner “publicity” from being held without a permit.

No one has really challenged the permit restrictions in recent memory. Until maybe now.

Ron Givens – a gun club worker – and Christine Bish – running for Congress in the CA 6th – filed an eight-count complaint against Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Warren Stanley, and California Public Health Officer Sonia Angell after they were denied permits to rally at the Capitol against the governor’s stay-at-home orders.

They claimed in their federal filing that the governor’s order to slow the spread of COVID-19 “impermissibly infringes” upon their “constitutional rights to speak, assemble, and petition the government” and other due process rights.

Basically, they wanted the right to protest the governor’s order and asked the federal court to grant them a temporary restraining order to do so.

But, Friday, the federal court fully backed the CHP’s “temporary” ban on any demonstration at the Capitol – presumably, that includes weddings or any rally or protest – because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez may have given the CHP some cover, but predicted it’s a case that could go up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judge said a U.S. Supreme Court case more than a century ago – 1915 – ruled that a community can “protect itself against an epidemic…which threatens the safety” of the public.

The Capitol has been the scene of sometimes rowdy protests over the past few weeks, including one with 32 arrests April 1 when about 500 demonstrators – the vast majority who appeared to be Pres. Trump supporters, complete with red MAGA caps – faced off with nearly 100 CHP officers on the West Steps.

Eventually the riot gear-clad CHP force pushed those demonstrators, who wanted to “open up” the state and end the stay-at-home orders.

This past Thursday, the CHP locked up the Capitol grounds with barricades. There were no arrests this time.

The CHP’s ban extends to all events on Capitol grounds. No permits are being accepted. The CHP is claiming previous protests involved hundreds of people, few wearing masks and most violating the six-foot social distancing guidelines, thus creating a health hazard.

“The Court is well aware that the State’s stay-at-home order being challenged by these Plaintiffs is burdensome, and even devastating, to many. This pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll. But the sacrifices all California residents are being asked to make to protect the state’s most vulnerable flow from a constitutional executive order. And our willingness to rise to the challenge posed by that order is a true measure of our humanity,” Mendez said in his order.

The Plaintiff’s in the current case argued that the CHP ban was unconstitutional, citing court decisions from more than a half century ago that Mendez said were “of little precedential value and inopposite” of the CHP care today.

One Plaintiffs example involved a “a racially-motivated and scientifically-unfounded quarantine of San Francisco’s Chinatown” that was ruled unconstitutional.

“Court agrees with Defendants that, requiring public health officials in the current pandemic to ‘identify specific individuals who carry the virus and order only them to stay home would not be feasible.’ That would require far more aggressive testing and contact-tracing, neither of which the State, at present, has the capacity to do,” the court wrote.

The court added that because, as of last Wednesday, COVID-19 had killed 2,412 Californians and infected nearly 60,000, “the State’s stay-at-home order bears a real and substantial relation to public health.”

The judge said he couldn’t argue with the state’s reasoning for the stay-at-home order.

“The State’s order, and the Department of Public Health directives it incorporates, seek to slow down the rate of transmission by drastically reducing the number and size of all gatherings,” he said, noting the state’s goal of wanting the “bend the curve” and “disrupt the spread of the virus” puts the court “in no position to question expert determinations on the efficacy of reducing gatherings in lowering the number of new infections.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Alan Miller

    There was the riot there about three years ago between neo Nazi and anti-fascist groups

    I remember it being between two fascist groups.  [But I do agree with you on the bizarre CHP “sit on our horses and enjoy the fight” response.]

    who appeared to be Pres. Trump supporters, complete with red MAGA caps –

    Those hats are a good clue.


  2. Alan Miller

     The CHP’s ban extends to all events on Capitol grounds . . . The CHP is claiming previous protests involved hundreds of people, few wearing masks and most violating the six-foot social distancing guidelines

    I hate to see this, as I am a great believer in all sides — including, as a Jew, Nazis —  to be able to excercise their right to free speech, even vile free speech.  But clearly the idiots who protested while defying masks & distancing sunk their own ship, and everyone else’s.  [And note, nearly every time I leave the house, which isn’t often, I see or experience people either intentionally or ignorantly not following simple safe practices – what is wrong with you people?]

    I think thee is a solution to this protest issue.  Require a steep deposit for permits and a list of people who will be attending.  Let in only people who have I.D. and are on the invite list.  Put the deposit in ‘escrow’ and make it like $100,000.  Pass out health code rules that must be followed. Charge $5,000 to the organizers for each clear health code violation until the $100,000 is reached.  That’ll force the organizers to police their own people.

    The problem isn’t protests, the problem is the protestors.

    1. Alan Miller

      While this may seem ironic that they would be forced to obey the very laws they are protesting, it would allow them to protest without breaking the law, would protect public health, and wouldn’t make them look like douche bags by blatantly ignoring a public health order.

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