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Minnesota top court finds part of disorderly conduct law unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Minnesota Supreme Court [official website] overruled [opinion, PDF] part of a state disorderly conduct statute on Wednesday, saying that it violated the First Amendment because it is "overbroad." Minnesota Statues 609.72, subd. 1(2) [statute] makes it a crime for a person to disrupt a legally held assembly. The case was brought after defendant Robin Lyne Hensel appealed her conviction under the statute after she had silently protested at a City Council meeting and refused to leave when asked. The majority wrote, "Due to the countless ways in which [the statute] can prohibit and chill protected expression, we conclude that the statute facially violates the First Amendment's overbreadth doctrine." The dissent, agreeing with the state, wrote that the statute could be narrowly construed to prohibit only conduct not protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment protection of free speech is one of the most highly adjudicated constitutional rights. Earlier this month the Department of Justice urged [JURIST report] the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the baker in a same-sex wedding cake case, evoking the First Amendment. Also in September a federal appeals court ruled [JURIST report] that a Wyoming data-trespassing law was subject to the First Amendment. In August two civil rights groups filed [JURIST report] lawsuits against President Donald Trump's transgender military ban, claiming in part that the ban violated their right to free speech. In November a Pennsylvania court found [JURIST report] that a law not allowing out-of-county poll watchers did not violate free speech.

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