Last Thursday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s administration set new curfew and permit rules on the park where Occupy Nashville had been camping for three weeks:
Preparing to evict the Occupy Nashville protesters, the Haslam administration banned public demonstrations at Legislative Plaza without a permit today and imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on all the Capitol grounds. State officials vowed to enforce the new policy beginning tomorrow.
“Not tonight,” state spokeswoman Lola Potter tells Pith. “We’re just now announcing the policy after 1 o’clock in the afternoon, so we’re not going to enforce it today. […]
The new policy will force Occupy Nashville to ask for permits from state government each day to demonstrate. Protests will be allowed only between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Additionally, the new rules require a $65 daily fee for permits, making protest pay-to-play at the Tennessee state capitol.
In an attempt to use the new rules to shut down Occupy Nashville, the Tennessee state police conducted mass arrests on both Thursday and Friday. According to The Tennessean, nearly fifty arrests were made over the two nights, including two reporters. The arrests on Thursday took place only 14 hours after the new rules were put into effect, and went forward despite the fact that the state had said there would be no arrests that night.
However, the state’s vindictive actions quickly ran into legal roadblocks. Tennessee law requires a local judicial commissioner to approve arrest warrants, and after both mass arrests local Night Court Magistrate Tom Nelson argued the state was overstepping its authority. Nelson refused to grant approval, and the protesters were quickly released.
Explaining his decision, Nelson sent out a sharp rebuke to the state for instituting new laws in order to clear out an established protest:
Early today, Night Court Magistrate Tom Nelson sent an email to Davidson County’s General Sessions judges explaining why he refused the THP’s request to sign criminal trespassing warrants against Occupy Nashville protesters.
In the email, obtained by The Tennessean, Nelson said he ordered all of the protesters released from custody because the state had not given the protesters adequate notice that it was changing the rules regarding how and when they could assemble on Legislative Plaza.
Nelson said “until the new rules and regulations were promulgated there was no crime of Criminal Trespass pertaining to this group of persons for the past 3 weeks.’’
He noted “It is of particular consternation that the rules and curfew were enacted after a protest movement and occupation of Legislative Plaza had been tolerated for just over 3 weeks, with no notice that the group members were involved in criminal activity.’
After failing to secure any arrests on Thursday or Friday, the Tennessee Highway Patrol did not even show up at Occupy Nashville for the past two nights. On Saturday afternoon, the protesters held a march in honor of Nelson.
Further, the protesters are now the ones on the legal offensive. With the help of the ACLU, they have filed a lawsuit against the Haslam administration. The name of the lawsuit is Occupy Nashville vs. Haslam.