A federal appeals court hinted that they may narrow the scope of President Trump’s executive order limiting protests in Washington D.C. The three judge panel suggested that they could leave intact the protest-free zone around the White House while loosening restrictions on demonstrations elsewhere in the city.
Trump-appointed Judge Karen Henderson questioned the government’s position that the full zone should be subject to the executive orders, implying that doing so constitutes an infringement of First Amendment rights. “The bigger point is why have we been put [into] this position where the government is de facto prohibiting speech in an area that is a quintessential public forum without constitutionally sufficient justification?” Henderson asked.
This comes after a district judge issued an injunction against Trump’s broad gag order, blocking the government from using force to stop people from demonstrating in areas outlined in the order. Last year, similar protests in the same areas during Trump’s inauguration led to the arrest of hundreds of people and expansive criminal charges.
During the hearing, Judge Henderson noted that the government could have appealed the district court’s ruling, but instead chose to provide an explanation to the appellate court. Appellate Justice Robert Wilkins seemed to agree with Henderson, saying that the government should explain why they need to cover the large area outlined in the zone if they want it to be successful.
It remains to be seen how the court will ultimately rule, but the panel’s discussions reveal that they are open to leaving parts of the area outside of the scope of the executive order. This could mark a major victory for protesters who have been limited in their rights since the order was issued.