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Is it Legal to Block Traffic While Protesting?

Blocking of traffic by protestors is neither legal nor a new practice. The act of blocking traffic is one of civil disobedience. This term was coined by one of the country’s earliest intellectuals and freethinkers — Henry David Thoreau. We have a constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest in traditional public forums without government restraint. Nevertheless, this right is not absolute and the government can place some restrictions on this type of activity.

Parameters for Protestors

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to free speech and expression as well as the right to assemble. That being said, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has repeatedly held that the government has the authority to place reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner (TPM) of the protest. TPM restrictions are aimed at accommodating public convenience and promoting order by regulation of traffic flow, preservation of property interests, conservation of the environment, and protection of the administration of justice. 

Moreover, governmental entities may impose restrictions on this type of activity by requiring that a group apply for and successfully obtain a permit to peacefully protest. The organization may be denied the permit and this is constitutional as long as the permit requirements are reasonable and treat all groups equally no matter the focus or content of the rally or protest. In other words, the government cannot deny a permit just because it does not like a certain speaker’s or group’s message.

Arrests of Protestors

Additionally, simply because people are protesting does not mean that they are given free reign to violate already-existing laws. Oftentimes organized protests or marches successfully obtain permits to close streets. That being said, protest participants often move beyond the permitted areas and start blocking roads and highways. Because walking onto the highway or any roadway outside of a crosswalk is considered jaywalking, doing so may be a crime. The same is true when protesting in jurisdictions that have laws on the books preventing the blocking or obstruction of traffic.

Protestors do get arrested. While many times protestors are detained so that officers can effectively crowd control, sometimes these individuals get charged with crimes. The most common types of charges include:

  • Disorderly conduct;
  • Disturbing the peace;
  • Trespassing;
  • Obstruction of justice;
  • Failing to obey law enforcement’s instructions;
  • Resisting arrest, with or without violence; and
  • Assault. 

In general, as long as a protestor is not disrupting other people, causing traffic issues, or forcing passersby to accept leaflets, he or she has the right to hold signs, distribute literature, collect petition signatures, and engage in other similar activities. 

Of note, non-US citizens who are not permanent residents can be investigated simply because of their First Amendment activities under the USA Patriot Act.

Know Your Rights

If you have more questions about protesting and your rights under American law, visit your local American Civil Liberties Union’s website. If you have been hurt in an accident in Nevada or know someone who has, contact the experienced Las Vegas personal injury attorneys at Matt Pfau Law Group. We can explain your rights and obligations under the law and fight for the monetary compensation you deserve.

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