This week, the U.S. District Court in Rapid City will hear portions of the case brought by the ACLU of South Dakota that challenges three South Dakota laws, including the newly-enacted “Riot Boosting” Act, that threaten advocates who encourage or organize protests – like those against the Keystone XL pipeline or mining in the Black Hills – with fines, civil liabilities, and/or criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison.
The hearing will take place at 3 p.m., June 12 in Room 301 of the Andrew W. Bogue Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse at 515 Ninth St. in Rapid City.
While courtroom drama in real life isn’t quite as exciting as what’s on TV or in the movies, there is a lot at stake, and we wanted to answer some frequently asked questions.
Who is involved in this case?
The ACLU is representing four organizations and two individuals (collectively known as the plaintiffs) who are planning to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and/or encourage others to do so:
- Dakota Rural Action
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- NDN Collective
- Sierra Club
- Nick Tilsen with NDN Collective
- Dallas Goldtooth with Indigenous Environmental Network
The defendants are:
- Kristi Noem, in her official capacity as South Dakota governor
- Jason Ravnsborg, in his official capacity as South Dakota attorney general
- Kevin Thom, in his official capacity as sheriff of Pennington County
The judge who will preside over the hearing is the Honorable Lawrence L. Piersol.
What is a hearing?
The hearing is our opportunity to stand up in front of the judge and argue the plaintiff’s case. Up until now, both sides have been submitting written briefs to the judge asking him to rule on the case in general and specific sub-issues within the case. (Scroll down to the bottom of this page to read all the legal documents.)
The written briefing on a number of important issues is now complete and the judge has asked that both sides appear in his courtroom to make these arguments in person so he can ask questions and further explore the arguments each side is making.
Can I come to the hearing? What can I bring?
Hearings are open to the public and anyone can come. However, there are some rules of conduct once inside a courthouse, and even stricter rules inside a courtroom itself. Anyone attending will have to go through security, be required to turn off cell phones at certain times, and be forbidden from bringing food and drink into the courtroom. Also, no one is allowed to record the court proceedings. Read more details on the dos and don’ts here.
What will the ACLU be arguing at the hearing?
On behalf of the plaintiffs, the ACLU is asking Judge Piersol for a preliminary injunction – to make a ruling that there is enough of a likelihood that the challenged laws (the Riot Boosting Act and two criminal laws with similar language) are unconstitutional and to block the state from enforcing the anti-protest laws as the case goes forward. If this happens, the plaintiffs (and anyone else) can continue to prep for protests surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline or mining in the Black Hills without fear of penalty as long as the injunction is in place.
What will the defendants be arguing at the hearing?
The defendants are asking for judgement on the pleadings, arguing that the laws are constitutional and that the court should throw out our entire case because none of our arguments have any merit.
The defendants have also asked that, if the court thinks there is a chance that the challenged laws are unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court should have the first opportunity to interpret the laws and decide whether they are constitutional.
Sheriff Thom of Pennington County is requesting the judge dismiss the lawsuit against him, arguing that his job is to enforce state laws not create those laws. The ACLU says Thom has discretion over how to enforce the law. The ACLU named Thom in the lawsuit because protests regarding the Keystone XL pipeline could take place near Rapid City.
When will a decision be made? What happens next?
That’s up to Judge Piersol. It is extremely unlikely, but he could decide to rule on some or all of these motions on Wednesday. It is more likely that he will wait to issue a written ruling over the next few days, weeks or months. All we can do is wait and see!
How can I get involved?
This case impacts so many people – activists, water protectors, organizations, and others. Many of the organizations involved are putting together events to bring attention to this case to show how impactful it could be for people’s ability to fight for issues like climate change, to protect water, and to defend the land. Join us! And let us know you’ll be there on the Facebook event page.
- 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. – art build and poster making (feel free to bring a potluck dish to share!) at NDN Collective, 317 Main St.
- 11:30 a.m. – more poster making at NDN Collective
- 12:30 p.m. – formal gathering begins with pre-march prayers and drumming at NDN Collective
- 1 p.m. – march from NDN Collective to the U.S. Courthouse
- 1:15 p.m. – rally begins at the U.S. Courthouse, 515 Ninth St., with speakers from each organization and a pre-hearing prayer
- 2:15 p.m. – Start entering the courthouse to fill up the hearing room
- 3 p.m. – hearing begins
Can’t make it to Rapid City? Get social with us and join our online rally!
Add a rally frame to your Facebook profile picture, share our posts on the case, and use the hashtag #NoKXLDakota on Twitter. Then, tune at 11:30 a.m. Central/12:30 p.m. Mountain Wednesday to catch a livestreamed video of the Protect the Protectors rally on Facebook.