Occupy Columbia protestors will no longer be allowed to camp or sleep on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie said the state Budget and Control Board was within its power to pass emergency regulations this week that banned camping on the grounds. However, protestors can remain 24 hours a day as long as they do not sleep there. The protestors said they were told they have until 2pm Friday to dissemble their camp.
Currie said the state’s action is reasonable if it views the Occupy camps as a public health or safety issue. She said the emergency regulations themselves do not infringe on the protestors’ free speech rights.
“They do have alternative ways to advance their message without camping on the Statehouse grounds,” Currie said in her decision.
Butch Bowers, the attorney who represented Governor Nikki Haley in the case, said the governor was happy with the decision. “She respects the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, their right to petition the government, and their right to peaceably assemble. However, as the court confirmed today, those rights are not unrestricted.”
Reynolds Blankenship, who represents the Occupy protestors, admitted that the regulation itself was constitutional. However, he argued the Budget & Control Board exceeded its authority by classifying the regulations as “emergency” — therefore making them effective immediately.
“We don’t believe there’s any evidence of an imminent peril,” Blankenship told the court, “The only way they could promulgate an emergency regulation is if there’s an actual emergency.”
He said the legal team has not decided if they want to file the case again in state court.
The emergency regulations would last for 90 days, if the General Assembly takes no action. The Budget and Control Board has also asked its General Services Division to move forward with permanent regulations that would take effect in 120 days. Neither side knew what would happen if the legislature does not act within the 90 days.