South Dakota Gove. Kristi Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg backed down from their unconstitutional attempts to silence protesters. Under a settlement agreement, which was approved by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol, the state agreed to never enforce current state laws that prohibit protected speech and are aimed at suppressing protests against the Keystone XL pipeline. The settlement will make permanent an earlier federal court ruling that temporarily blocked enforcement of unconstitutional provisions of the anti-protest laws.
The agreement today comes in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of South Dakota and the Robins Kaplan law firm on behalf of four organizations: the Sierra Club, NDN Collective, Dakota Rural Action, and the Indigenous Environmental Network; and two individuals: Nick Tilsen with NDN Collective and Dallas Goldtooth with Indigenous Environmental Network. All are currently protesting or planning to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and/or encouraging others to do so.
The lawsuit challenged unconstitutional provisions of several South Dakota laws, including the “Riot Boosting” Act, that threatened activists who encourage or organize protests, particularly protests of the Keystone XL pipeline, with fines, civil liabilities, and/or criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison.
In September, U.S. District Judge Lawrence L. Piersol found the anti-protest provisions of the laws unconstitutional and temporarily blocked state officials from enforcing them. Under the terms of the settlement, Noem and Ravnsborg will send a letter to the state’s attorneys in each county, telling them to direct law enforcement in their jurisdictions not to enforce the unconstitutional provisions of the laws. They will also compensate plaintiffs for attorneys’ fees.
South Dakota’s “Riot Boosting” Act joins a recently growing number of government efforts to stifle protests, particularly those led by Indigenous and environmental activists, often in opposition to pipelines.