Vice President Pence announced that he would attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, Georgia. Accordingly, city officials––in collaboration with the Secret Service–– released a list of 29 items that would be prohibited at the parade. Among those items were posters and signs that would presumably be used to protest against the Vice President. City officials initially claimed the ban was consistent with security measures the Secret Service had imposed at similar high-profile events, such as the presidential inauguration.
Protesters cried foul, and the ACLU quickly filed a lawsuit in Federal Court seeking to enjoin the ban. The suit alleged that a blanket sign ban during Pence’s visit would violate the free speech rights of parade goers.
Soon after the ACLU lawsuit was filed, city officials reversed course and revoked the ban. A city spokeswoman said that signs ended up on the banned items list because of a communications error with the Secret Service.
After the ban was lifted, the city took on a conciliatory tone: a city spokesperson said that ban was never intended “infringe on anyone’s rights at all,” and Police Chief Mark Revenew said authorities would honor the First Amendment rights of parade spectators.
An ACLU spokesperson said that “[w]e think Savannah should spend more time protecting the rights of its citizens than protecting the feelings of the vice president.”
Stepping back, this was a short-lived First Amendment confrontation. Nonetheless, the city’s quick apology and conciliatory tone shows that the First Amendment continues to strongly protect the rights of protesters–– and their signs––at city parades.