Oklahoma State Conference NAACP Challenges Law Meant to Chill Peaceful Demonstrations
Lawsuit Filed by Georgetown Law’s ICAP Argues HB 1674 is Unconstitutional
WASHINGTON (August 30, 2021) — The Oklahoma State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Oklahoma NAACP) filed suit today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, challenging Oklahoma House Bill 1674, set to go into effect on November 1. Filed by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University Law Center, the National NAACP, and local attorney Melvin Hall, the lawsuit argues that the law, which was written to discourage peaceful demonstrations in Oklahoma, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because its vague and overbroad provisions subject organizations like the NAACP to draconian criminal penalties for constitutionally protected activity.
“Last year, the country watched a video of a man being brutally murdered by law enforcement. Rather than trying to prevent such future injustices in this state, Oklahoma dedicated its efforts to silencing those who fight against injustice,” said Anthony R. Douglas, President of Oklahoma State NAACP. “The First and Fourteenth Amendments demand that HB1674 be struck down.”
The Oklahoma state legislature enacted HB1674 in response to racial-justice demonstrations held across the country in the aftermath of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. The law would expand Oklahoma’s already extensive statutory framework criminalizing riots and unlawful assemblies by imposing draconian fines on organizations found to be “conspirators” with any individual who happens to commit a riot-related crime—which, given the law’s vague and overbroad terms, could occur even if the organizations themselves do not engage in or conspire to commit riot or related offenses.
In addition, HB1674 also creates a new crime that prohibits “render[ing] . . . unreasonably inconvenient” “the normal use of any public street, highway or road . . . by standing or approaching motor vehicles thereon.” The provision’s vague terms could apply to peaceful demonstrations that pose no threat to public safety and no substantial impediment to use of the roads.
“The exorbitant fines imposed by Oklahoma’s anti-protest law pose an existential threat to organizations like the Oklahoma NAACP, which has since its founding in 1913 organized demonstrations for its members to exercise their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government for the redress of grievances,” said ICAP Executive Director, Mary B. McCord. “The intent to chill this type of longstanding protected activity is apparent from its terms, which we challenge on behalf of the NAACP today.”
“Oklahoma’s anti-protest law seeks to stop organizations like the NAACP from engaging in rallies, marches, and peaceful demonstrations—actions that have always been at the heart of the civil rights movement’s challenges to unlawful acts and unjust conditions,” said NAACP Interim General Counsel, Janette Wallace. “As a result, HB1674 creates grave constitutional and practical concerns.”
The lawsuit, filed against Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, seeks a declaration that the relevant provisions of HB1674 violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and a permanent injunction against enforcement of those provisions.
About the Oklahoma State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – Founded in 1913, Oklahoma State Conference, NAACP is the oldest civil-rights organization in Oklahoma, and serves as the umbrella organization for local branch units throughout the state. Its vision is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination. Its mission is to work together with more than 2 million activists across the country to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination; to inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination; to educate everyone on their constitutional rights and to take all lawful action to secure the exercise of those rights; and to take any other lawful action in furtherance of these objectives.
About the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection – ICAP uses the power of the courts to defend American constitutional rights and values. Based at Georgetown Law Center, ICAP draws on expert litigators, novel litigation strategy, and the constitutional scholarship of Georgetown to vindicate individuals’ rights and to protect America’s constitutional way of life. More information about ICAP can be found at law.georgetown.edu/icap.