Media Contact

Janna Farley, jfarley@aclu.org

September 18, 2019

A federal court today blocked enforcement of the unconstitutional provisions of several South Dakota laws, including the recently-enacted “Riot Boosting” Act, that threaten 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 granting plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Lawrence L. Piersol wrote: “Imagine that if these riot boosting statutes were applied to the protests that took place in Birmingham, Alabama, what might be the result? … Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference could have been liable under an identical riot boosting law[.]”

The lawsuit was 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 so-called ‘Riot Boosting’ Act was clearly intended to suppress constitutionally-protected, peaceful protests of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Stephen Pevar, senior staff attorney in the ACLU's Racial Justice Program. “We’re glad the court recognized that these vague and overbroad laws threaten the First Amendment rights of South Dakotans on every side of the issue.”

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.

Below are additional comments from:

Dallas Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network: "As Dakota, it is our duty to protect the land and water, and speaking up on behalf of these sacred elements is essential to that endeavor. This decision is a good step in protecting our right to organize, educate and promote a sustainable future for all generations of life.”

John Harter, Dakota Rural Action board chair: “Our opposition to the pipeline construction may agitate Gov. Noem, but the First Amendment guarantees us the right to make our voices heard. We’re thrilled that the state is blocked from enforcing the anti-protest laws as the case goes forward. The government has dismissed Native Americans, South Dakota farmers and ranchers and others who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, but the pipeline, if constructed, would have a substantial impact on all of our lives.”

Additional information about the ACLU’s First Amendment challenge to South Dakota’s anti-protest laws is available here: https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/rights-protesters/south-dakota-legislature-has-invented-new-legal-term-target.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people.  In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.

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