In recent months, US cities have seen widespread protests denouncing police brutality against unarmed Black people. Local and national law enforcement agencies, responding to crowds of unprecedented size and scale, relied on methods that were equally unprecedented. For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has failed to take up a freedom-of-assembly case. As a result, this fundamental constitutional right is in sore need of an update, such as a ruling that would protect protesters from the unduly harsh police response that has become all too common as a response to demonstrations in recent years.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly describes the right of the people to peaceably assemble. This right is recognized separately from the right to freedom of speech because the founders believed that the act of organizing a large crowd for a demonstration, parade or protest could be more powerful than individual speech, and was therefore even more susceptible to government encroachment. Like the right to religious expression, the founders gave the right to protest its own listing intending for the courts to give it special treatment and fashion unique legal standards that would ensure its protection.Continue reading