Judge denies “protest tax” plaintiffs a temporary restraining order

This afternoon, Judge Richard Jones weighed in for the first time on the “protest tax” lawsuit filed against the City of Seattle, denying the plaintiffs a temporary restraining order.

You may recall that the plaintiffs, a group of protesters, argued that SPD’s crowd control tactics required them to spend their own money buying protective gear in order to feel safe protesting. That, they argued, was a violation of the “equal protection” clause of the U.S. Constitution, since it created a financial barrier to exercising one’s First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit in most other ways mirrored the one originally filed by Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and the ACLU, copying its claims of other constitutional violations and asking for nearly the same temporary restraining order (TRO) that BLM/ACLU originally did.

To be granted a TRO, plaintiffs must show:

  • a likelihood of success on the merits;
  • a likelihood of suffering irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief;
  • that the balance of hardships tips in their favor;
  • that a TRO is in the public interest.

In deciding the motion, Judge Jones broke it into two pieces: the claims that overlap with the BLM/ACLU case, and the additional equal protection claim.  On the latter, Jones found that the plaintiffs failed on all four parts of the test, and in fact failed to even put forth an argument on the merits of its case. Because they didn’t argue it, Jones chose to ignore it — at least for the purposes of a TRO.

For the part that overlaps with the BLM/ACLU case, Judge Jones found that they met the first two parts of the test, for the same reasons the BLM/ACLU case did. But he ruled that they failed the last two parts. In fact, he found that with the tailored TRO in place — including the clarifications he approved this morning — the balance of equities now tips heavily in the favor of the city because the protestors currently have several safeguards in place.

With the TRO out of the way, the city might try to get the equal protection claim dismissed as a matter of law; if it succeeds, then it can ask the court to join the two cases together and simplify the legal proceedings. Since both cases are already assigned to Jones, joining them would be straightforward.

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