On March 22 federal District Judge William Pauley ruled that the New York City Police Department stopped a May 1998 cab demonstration from taking place in retaliation for a lawful strike undertaken by cab drivers. The judge therefore ruled that the NYPD violated the cab drivers’ First Amendment rights and took the unusual step of awarding monetary damages for these violations.
The cab drivers had sought to conduct their vehicular demonstration to protest changes the Giuliani Administration had planned for taxi rules. In response to the proposed changes, cab drivers mounted a successful one-day strike on May 13. This infuriated Mayor Giuliani, and when cab drivers assembled on May 21 in Queens to conduct a vehicular demonstration through Manhattan they were met by a huge police presence, the City closed all the East River crossings to yellow cabs, and former NYPD Commissioner referred to the protesting drivers as “terrorists.” The NYCLU quickly obtained a court order forcing the City to allow the demonstration to take place, and it did so on May 28.
The NYCLU then challenged the constitutionality of the NYPD actions in stopping the original demonstration, with the City contending that it had acted on the belief that taxi drivers intended to disrupt traffic throughout Manhattan. Following a trial, Judge Pauley rejected this defense in his March opinion: “This Court finds that retaliation for the May 13 taxi strike, and not traffic and public safety concerns, motivated the police’s decision to prohibit the taxi demonstration.”