Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) Launches New Toolkit to Prevent Violence at Protests and Rallies

July 29, 2020

In addition to a new toolkit, ICAP announces coalition with the nation's top law firms to provide pro-bono assistance to localities threatened by political violence and militias

WASHINGTON – Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) today rolled out a series of critical resources to help local governments and community members across the country protect public safety while fostering First Amendment-protected activity.

These resources include a new coalition of the nation’s leading law firms, representing thousands of attorneys in dozens of cities across the United States, that have offered to work pro-bono with communities facing threats of political violence at protests and rallies. Additionally, ICAP is today launching “Protests and Public Safety: A Guide for Cities and Citizens,” which contains legal principles, best practices, and creative solutions for local jurisdictions, concerned residents, and activists.

Political violence, especially from white supremacist and far-right militia organizations, has been on the rise across the country since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, nearly three years ago, often leading to tragic outcomes. Following successful litigation against individuals and organizations involved in the violence in Charlottesville — aimed at preventing violence at future protests and rallies –– ICAP has worked with local jurisdictions across the county to protect public safety at such events while preserving constitutional rights.

More recently, with the surge of protests against police brutality and racial injustice, ICAP has supported local officials, residents, and activists seeking to foster and engage in peaceful protest without the threat of violence and intimidation from heavily armed far-right militias claiming a mission to keep the peace and protect property. ICAP recently teamed up with Bernalillo County, New Mexico, District Attorney Raúl Torrez and local firm Peifer, Hanson, Mullins & Baker to file suit seeking to enjoin the unlawful usurpation of law enforcement and military functions of the New Mexico Civil Guard, a heavily armed militia that deployed to “protect” the statue of a Spanish conquistador during a protest in Albuquerque in June.

“Recent examples from around the country of dangerous far-right extremism highlight the important responsibilities of local jurisdictions to both foster First Amendment activity and protect the safety of protesters and the public,” said Mary McCord, ICAP’s Legal Director and former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the U.S. Department of Justice. “Following ICAP’s successful Charlottesville litigation using anti-paramilitary laws available in every state, local governments and community members have sought our counsel when faced with similar threats during protests and rallies. Our toolkit offers a comprehensive set of legal guidelines and guardrails that provide a roadmap for cities and the law firms that today are committing to help support this critically important work.”

Law firms committed to working pro-bono with localities facing challenges of political violence include Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, WilmerHale, Hogan Lovells, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Jones Day, Stoel Rives LLP, Gibson Dunn, and Dykema.

Today in a virtual event hosted by ICAP, McCord; Torrez; Steven Schulman, Pro Bono Partner at Akin Gump and Co-President of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel; George Selim, Senior Vice President of Programs at the Anti-Defamation League; and Michael Signer, former mayor of Charlottesville, Va., will discuss the current threats facing racial justice protesters, lessons learned from the 2017 Unite the Right rally as featured in Signer’s book Cry Havoc, and the work ICAP and the ADL continue to do to address political violence and extremism in American democracy. The conversation will be moderated by NPR’s Michel Martin.

“Like so many communities around the country, my hometown of Albuquerque was recently the site of unlawful militia activity during a public protest,” said Torrez. “This is absolutely unacceptable, and with ICAP’s assistance we filed civil charges against those who attempted to subvert the rule of law and threaten public safety. With today’s announcement, communities around the country have new resources and partners to protect themselves and the full diversity of viewpoints while upholding the Constitution.”

“Akin Gump is excited to be among the founding members of this collective effort to offer pro bono counsel to communities around the country that increasingly face threats of political violence,” said Schulman. “As lawyers, we know that at its best our legal system protects everyone who seeks to exercise their First Amendment rights safely and peacefully. We look forward to working with ICAP and the other firms around the country to help prevent intimidation and violent extremism at protests and rallies.”

“As an organization rooted in a 100+ year history of working both to fight against the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all people, ADL knows first-hand how subtle bias and apathy can turn into discrimination and violence,” said Selim. “We’ve seen it in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso, Orlando, Minneapolis and countless other cities, and we can’t sit by silently. It’s incumbent on all leaders, both local and national, to stand up and speak out forcefully when they witness even a trace of injustice. In these turbulent times, civil society leaders and organizations like the ones working with ICAP on this project are the safety-net for communities nation-wide.”

“As mayor of Charlottesville during the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, I saw firsthand the tragic consequences of unchecked right-wing extremism,” said Signer. “Based on that experience, I wrote Cry Havoc, an account of the events leading up to that pivotal moment for our city, our state and our nation. The launch of ICAP’s toolkit and a national coalition of law firms representing thousands of the brightest legal minds in the country should give us all hope that no corner of our nation will be given over to extremism, intimidation, or political violence.”

About Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP)

The mission of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection is to use the power of the courts to defend American constitutional rights and values. The Institute, based at Georgetown University Law Center, draws on expert litigators, savvy litigation strategy, and the constitutional scholarship of Georgetown to vindicate individuals’ rights and protect America’s constitutional way of life.