Tennessee officials agreed Monday to stop enforcing a new curfew used to dislodge Occupy Nashville protesters from the grounds around the Capitol.
The protesters went to federal court seeking a temporary restraining order against Gov. Bill Haslam, arguing the curfew and arrests of dozens of supporters violated their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.
State Attorney General’s Office Senior Counsel Bill Marett announced at the beginning of a hearing before Judge Aleta Trauger that the state would not fight efforts to halt the policy.
The judge said she had already decided to grant the restraining order because the curfew was a “clear prior restraint on free speech rights.”
“I can’t think of a more quintessential public forum than Legislative Plaza,” Trauger said.
This is a huge victory for Nashville and in general, the OWS movement. It shows that you can’t just deprive people of their right to freedom of speech and assembly because you disagree with the content of their message. Hell, Nashville had been considering a city-wide curfew just to get around the freedom of assembly right.
“It’s not every day you get to see a night court magistrate smack down the governor of Tennessee,” a legal observer said outside the Metro Courthouse at 2:30 a.m. today, as fog shrouded downtown in mist.
Yet that’s what happened in the early morning hours, as Metro Night Court Judge Tom Nelson told the troopers who arrested 25 peaceful Occupy Nashville protesters at midnight on Legislative Plaza — along with Scene reporter Jonathan Meador, who was attempting to get off the plaza when he was cuffed and hauled off — that the curfew being enforced at the Capitol had no constitutional grounds whatsoever.
“I have reviewed the regulations of the state of Tennessee, and I can find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza,” Judge Nelson told a grimacing trooper, before ordering the immediate release of everyone arrested.
Some 30 additional protesters greeted those released with cheers and chants of “This is how democracy works!” They were last seen at 4 a.m. marching victoriously up Deaderick Street — back to Legislative Plaza.
Meador, meanwhile, greeted news of his imminent release with a tweet from custody: “Can I go home now?” His request of a ride home from Gov. Haslam for the inconvenience was met with silence.