Judge makes it easier to protest at DIA, for now

Judge William Martinez said that protesters have a valid desire to “strike while the iron’s hot” and the airport must facilitate permits in a timely fashion.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Muslim protesters pray at DIA, Jan. 28, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  amal kassir; immigration; refugees; politics; protest; copolitics; rally; dia; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty;

Muslim protesters pray at DIA, Jan. 28, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A federal judge has ordered the city of Denver to allow protests at any open, public location in Denver International Airport and found that the airport must quickly process permits for protests on timely topics, including sudden political developments.

Currently, city rules say that would-be protesters have to give the airport seven days’ notice in order to get a permit to rally at DIA.

A pair of protesters, Nazli McDonnell and Eric Verlo, sued the city after they were threatened with arrest at the airport. Like hundreds of other people, they had gathered at DIA with signs over the weekend of Jan. 28 and 29 to protest President Donald Trump’s executive orders barring refugees and residents of seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa from entering the United States.

Originally, the lawsuit had aimed to force the airport to allow protests without any permits whatsoever, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Andrew McNulty. It argued that police threats of arrest had a chilling effect on people’s free speech, and that the seven-day requirement made it impossible to organize protests in a timely fashion. (Read our previous coverage of the lawsuit’s first day in court.)

Judge William Martinez did not agree that DIA’s Jeppesen Terminal is a “public forum,” which means he found that some restrictions on speech are allowed, but he wrote in an order that protesters have a valid desire to “strike while the iron’s hot.”

The judge’s preliminary injunction, issued today, says that the city must create an expedited process for people wishing to communicate “topical ideas reasonably relevant to the purposes and mission of the Airport, the immediate importance of which could not have been foreseen 7 days or more in advance…”

The order forces Denver to allow protests anywhere in DIA that the “unticketed public is normally allowed to be.” It also strikes down a rule against “picketing” at the airport and says that there can be no limit on the size of signs at the airport, as long as they don’t get in the way of travelers and visitors.

Denver can choose to appeal the injunction to a higher court or it can allow the order to stand and proceed to trial under Judge Martinez, according to McNulty. In either case, it has to act on the order for now, McNulty said.

“This is just a win for all of Denver and for the First Amendment, McNulty said. “It will allow Denverites to show that they do not stand with the president in his actions against immigrants.”

Update: We’ve received this statement from Denver International Airport.

“Denver International Airport’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety, security and efficient movement of its passengers, tenants and employees.  In order to do so, it must retain the ability to limit the size and appropriate location for a demonstration.  That’s why the airport is considering its options regarding today’s court decision. The airport remains committed to balancing the rights of individuals to express themselves with the need to protect passengers and airport operations.”