NAACP and demonstrators challenge new NC Legislative Building rules

ablythe@newsobserver.comJune 12, 2014 

— The state NAACP and five plaintiffs have filed a complaint in Wake County Superior Court asking for the suspension of new N.C. Legislative Building rules.

The critics of the rules, which were adopted in early May, argue in the complaint that legislators crafted the measures to “criminalize constitutionally protected conduct.”

A hearing on the complaint is set for Friday morning in Wake County Superior Court.

Stella Adams, one of 14 people arrested May 27 inside the office of N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, was one of the plaintiffs. Others are Douglas and Vicki Ryder, a Durham couple arrested last year during one of the “Moral Monday” protests; Sylvia Barnes, a Goldsboro NAACP leader, and O’Linda Gillis, president of the Moore County NAACP chapter.

Under the new rules, any group making enough noise to interfere with conversation at normal speaking levels is creating a “disturbance.” Clapping, shouting and singing, as well as using a bullhorn, were listed as examples of behavior that could be disturbing.

In a protest last month, the Rev. William J. Barber II, head of the state NAACP and an organizer of the Moral Monday movement, and hundreds of other demonstrators put tape across their mouths and marched two-by-two through the building.

The new rules also allow police or staff to order people out of the building if they think protesters pose an “imminent threat” of a disturbance, even if nothing has been done. If the visitors don’t leave, they can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. The term “imminent threat” isn’t defined in the rules.

Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tem of the N.C. Senate, issued a news release Thursday before the NAACP announced that the lawsuit had been filed. He contended the rule changes are an attempt to “liberalize and clarify archaic and confusing building rules adopted decades ago.”

“For years, we’ve heard feedback that the 30-year-old building rules implemented by previous Democrat leaders were confusing and restrictive,” Berger said in the statement. “We responded to those concerns, and I am baffled why Rev. Barber is now trying to turn back the progress we made in increasing building access and free speech.”

Barber differed with the senator’s characterization.

The building rules have been at the core of court cases filed against the 945 demonstrators arrested last year while protesting the Republican agenda.

Though resolution of the cases has been varied, the two judges presiding over the trials in Wake County District Court have described the old rules as vague in some cases and have thrown out some charges based on those claims.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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