In May 2009, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed, in Federal Court, a motion to restrain the City of Cincinnati and its agents from harassing citizens who are demanding that the City put its $200 million trolley project to a vote. The Motion argues the City consistently threatens petitioners who gather signatures for causes with which the City disagrees, and that the Court must immediately stop this interference.
Over the last month, the City of Cincinnati, through various police officer and other government agents, has escalated its interference with trolley project petitioners, ordering them to stop collecting signatures on Fountain Square, Findlay Market, and on public sidewalks, and in several cases, threatening to arrest petitioners for “circulating petitions without a license.” The Motion notes that no license or prior approval is needed to gather signatures on public property.
“The political class of Cincinnati clearly feels threatened by the idea that the citizens, and not they, would get to have the final word on whether to implement this abysmally expensive pork project.” Maurice Thompson, Director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law said.
The Center, who is partnering with the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes on this case, expects that the U.S. District Court will immediately grant a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the City and its agents from interfering with petitioner’s collection of signatures.
In Ohio and nationwide, Courts recognize the ballot initiative as the zenith of political speech, accorded the utmost protection under the First Amendment. Given our state Constitution’s acknowledgment that ‘all political power is inherent in the people,’ that the City would interfere with this clearly-recognized right in such a haphazard manner is dumbfounding.
The City’s interference and harassment coincides with COAST petitioners reaching the halfway point on their way to the the 6,150 valid signatures that need to be submitted by September 4 to place the issue on the ballot.
The city responded to the complaint by entering into a settlement agreement requiring them to allow petitioners to gather signatures.