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Federal court hears arguments in pipeline protest bill suit

June 13, 2019
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A protestor holding a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Red flag listens to speakers protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline outside the Andrew W. Bogue Federal Courthouse. (Adam Fondren/Rapid City Journal via AP)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Attorneys for the state of South Dakota and the American Civil Liberties Union appeared before a federal judge to argue their positions on a new law that aims to prevent disruptive demonstrations.

The ACLU is suing Gov. Kristi Noem and others saying the new law — which was enacted in anticipation of the Keystone XL pipeline — chills protected speech. The state’s attorneys are asking for a judgment in its favor.

The Argus Leader reported that Judge Lawrence Piersol did not rule Wednesday and is expected to rule at a later date.

The law pushed by Noem allows officials to pursue criminal or civil penalties from demonstrators who engage in “riot boosting,” which is defined in part as encouraging violence during a riot. Noem has said the law is meant to address problems caused by “out-of-state rioters funded by out-of-state interests.”

Supporters of the legislation sought to head off protests of the Keystone XL like those mounted against the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017. North Dakota spent $38 million on policing those protests, which resulted in 761 arrests over a six-month span.

American Indian tribes and environmental groups have promised similar protests against Keystone XL, which TransCanada Corp. wants to build to move Canadian crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with lines carrying oil to Gulf Coast refineries. The $8 billion project is tied up in the courts.

The Rapid City Journal reported that dozens of opponents of the legislation rallied outside the federal courthouse Wednesday.

“Landowners, tribal people, families are against this pipeline and this law is a threat to our right” to protest, Nick Tilsen, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and president of NDN Collective, a Rapid City-based indigenous advocacy group, said outside the courthouse.

ACLU lawyer Stephen Pevar said in a statement that states are within their rights to prohibit incitement of violence, but such laws go beyond that by criminalizing impassioned advocacy that’s at the core of political discourse.

“They instill a fear among peaceful organizers that their actions or words could be misconstrued by the government as ‘riot boosting.’ As a result, activists are now forced to think twice before even encouraging others to join a protest, let alone train, educate, or advice those who plan to protest,” he said.

Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who is also a defendant, have denied the ACLU’s allegations.

Noem spokeswoman Kristin Wileman said: “The governor fully supports freedoms of speech and assembly. There must also be law and order. No one has the right to incite violence, and for those who do, there should be consequences for their actions.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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