PRESS RELEASE: Protecting the Right to Protest
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 8, 2016
CONTACT: Dave Roland
PROTECTING THE RIGHT TO PROTEST:
Candidate Challenges Laws That Keep Political Protesters Off Election Ballots
Mexico, Missouri—In 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court held that refusing to register to vote is an expressive act protected by the First Amendment because “there are those individuals for whom the choice not to register to vote implicates political thought and expression.” Rachel Johns is one of those individuals.
“In 2014, as an African American woman living in St. Louis, I was disillusioned with the political system,” Rachel said. “I desperately wanted to do some good for my community, but I believed the deck was stacked against the interests of ordinary citizens. I was eligible to register to vote, but felt that doing so would have been an endorsement of that broken system, and at the time I could not do that in good conscience. My choice not to register was an act of protest.”
Despite this decision, Rachel was still determined to do what she could to improve her community, protesting abuses of government authority and working to promote the establishment of a Civilian Oversight Board to check the power of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. As she pursued her activism, she got to know a local politician in St. Louis who inspired Rachel to believe that the political system could be redeemed if enough good people committed to changing the status quo. On February 4, 2015, after careful deliberation and soul-searching, she ended her protest and registered to vote. More than a year later, with the encouragement of friends, neighbors, and mentors, Rachel declared her candidacy to represent her district in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Last week, however, Rachel’s opponent filed a lawsuit challenging her candidacy, pointing out state laws that require a candidate for the Missouri House of Representatives to have been a “qualified voter” for two years prior to his or her election and noting that when this year’s general election rolls around Rachel will only have been registered to vote for one year, nine months, and four days.
“Rachel has been actively invested in promoting her community’s interests for much longer than she’s been registered to vote,” said Dave Roland, the Freedom Center of Missouri’s director of litigation. “The only reason her candidacy is in question is because she engaged in an expressive act of political protest that the U.S. Supreme Court has said is protected by the First Amendment. Missouri law cannot be applied in such a way that it would penalize not only Rachel, but the voters of State House District 76 as well, simply because she engaged in a political protest.”
On April 7, 2016, the Freedom Center of Missouri came to Rachel’s aid, acting not only to defend her against her political opponent’s lawsuit, but also filing a separate lawsuit (also attached below) against Missouri’s Attorney General and Secretary of State to safeguard not only Rachel’s freedom to protest, but also the voters’ right to have a real choice as to who will represent them in the Missouri House of Representatives.
“I’m the only person of any party who was willing to challenge the incumbent in this race,” Rachel noted. “If I get removed from the ballot, my fellow voters and I will go through an entire election cycle without being able to cast a meaningful vote against the political status quo.”
“Representative government only really works when the voters have a genuine choice among candidates,” Roland explained. “Courts all over the nation have been striking down similar laws that penalize citizens for political protest and artificially restrict voters’ choices of candidates, and we look forward to winning an important victory for Rachel, the voters of State House District 76, and citizens all over the state.”
Founded in November 2010 and headquartered in Mexico, Missouri, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is Missouri’s leading legal advocate for the constitutional protection of election-related liberties secured by the First Amendment. This is the fourth case they have taken dealing with the constitutional rights of candidates and voters; the Freedom Center won all three of the previous cases. Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org.
Previous election-related cases:
Wright-Jones v. Nasheed – Unanimous Missouri Supreme Court Victory
Vowell v. Kander – Unanimous Appellate Victory
Constitution Party of Missouri, et al. v. St. Louis County, et al. – U.S. District Court Victory
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Dave Roland at (314) 604-6621.]