Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

Judge rules Noem administration violated First Amendment right, taxpayers will pay legal fees

PIERRE, S.D. – When an organization applied for a permit to protest on State Capitol grounds, Gov. Kristi Noem’s Bureau of Administration said “no.” The reason cited was that Christmas decorating was underway in the Capitol.

At the time, Noem said that, “Nobody’s being denied their free speech rights.  They will be accommodated.”

But a federal judge didn’t see it that way.

He has ordered the state of South Dakota to pay lawyers for the “Blue State Refugees” after it was found that the Noem Administration violated the organization’s First Amendment rights.

In a 12-page opinion, Judge Roberto Lange, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for South Dakota, ordered the state to pay $37,503 following a denial of a permit to protest on State Capitol grounds.

Last November, members of the “Blue State Refugees,” an organization made up of out-of-state transplants to South Dakota from more heavily Democratic areas, attempted to get a permit to protest for more COVID-19 vaccine exemptions on State Capitol grounds.

The Bureau of Administration issues permits to organizations requesting to utilize state facilities. It denied the permit request, citing Christmas decorating going on in the Capitol.

The opinion issued by Judge Lange says that on “December 16, 2021, the parties filed for a Stipulation for Consent Decree and Entry of Order… in which Defendants (the Noem Administration) agreed to amend their policies and guidelines for issuing permits on state Capitol grounds and conceded that Plaintiffs (Blue State Refugees) were the prevailing party.”

The Institute for Free Speech will receive $16,560 in the settlement. Lawyers from Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson, & Ashmore, including former Attorney General Marty Jackley, will also receive $20,943 from taxpayers in South Dakota, as part of the settlement in the lawsuit.

Luke Robertson, a member of “Blue State Refugees,” and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said it was disappointing how strongly the state fought the issue.  He says it was an indicator the Noem Administration doesn’t, “respect our rights, especially our First Amendment right.”

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