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Court forces City to draft new policy on rallies on the steps of City Hall.

The steps of City Hall in New York City long have been the site of political events, be they rallies, press conferences, or other forms of protest. Recently, however, the Giuliani Administration started enforcing — against some groups at least — a longstanding but largely unknown policy prohibiting all events other than press conferences and limiting those to 25 persons.
Shortly after we learned of this, the NYCLU scheduled a press conference and rally on the steps for July 4 at which time we intended to publicize the NYCLU’s view of the First Amendment in New York City, a view that varies dramatically from that of the Giuliani Administration. The Police Department informed us that we could not hold the event with the 40 to 50 people we expected, and we in turn threatened to sue. The City then relented.

Within a week of our event an AIDS service and advocacy group known as Housing Works approached us about its intention to hold a press conference and rally on the City Hall steps with more than 25 persons. We again approached the City, which this time refused to allow the event to go forward. We immediately filed a complaint in federal court along with a motion for a preliminary injunction asking the court to declare the policy unconstitutional.

We made a substantial evidentiary presentation to the court, which conducted a preliminary-injunction hearing on Friday, July 17, 1998. The following Monday the court issued a thorough decision in which it preliminarily declared the City’s policy unconstitutional and ordered that Housing Works be permitted to proceed with its event the following day, which it did.

The City did not appeal the court’s decision but instead has started to draft a new policy. Once we receive that revised policy, we will decide whether we need to proceed further.

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