D.C. Voting Rights Activists' Trial Set For Tuesday; Lawyers Plan First Amendment Defense

WASHINGTON -- Eight District of Columbia voting rights activists arrested at an April rally on Capitol Hill will go to trial in the D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday morning, where they will challenge the misdemeanor charges against them using a First Amendment defense.

The activists are D.C. Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown (D), Jack E. Evans (a local veteran, not the D.C. Council member from Ward 2), DC Vote public affairs director Eugene DeWitt Kinlow, and activists Deangelo B. Scott, Lawrence Harris, Anise Jenkins, Adam Maier and Robert V. Brannum.

All of the activists, except for Brown, were among 41 demonstrators arrested at an April 11 rally. They call themselves the DC 41 -- protesting, among other things, a federal budget deal that restricted use of city money for abortions. Police arrested the protesters while they were blocking traffic at 1st Street NE and Constitution Avenue. Brown was arrested by Capitol Police on April 15 at another D.C. statehood protest outside the Hart Senate Office Building.

U.S. Capitol Police officers also arrested Mayor Vincent Gray, along with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) and five other members of the D.C. Council (including, confusingly, at-large Independent Michael A. Brown), at the April 11 rally.

The eight due in court on Tuesday are charged with failure to obey a lawful order, which is a misdemeanor. A second charge -- of blocking passage, another misdemeanor -- was added when the eight chose to go to trial, turning down a "post and forfeiture" option (they would have paid a fine and the charges would have been dropped). Fellow protesters, including the mayor and all of the D.C. Council members, accepted the post and forfeiture option. Penalties for the eight may total $2,000, with up to 90 days of jail time.

Ann Wilcox, one of the attorneys representing seven of the defendants -- Brannum is representing himself -- told The Huffington Post that the protesters will challenge the charges with a First Amendment defense.

"The police are really supposed to, if at all possible, allow people to protest. It also builds on the civil rights tradition of the D.C. voting rights and lack of say in how money is spent," Wilcox said. "This is an outgrowth of the civil rights movement also, and trying to make sure that D.C. -- which now is the last colony -- receives full political rights. This is a very important action. A very important struggle."

DC Vote plans to hold a rally before the trial in support of the activists in front of the courthouse. Its website announcement for the rally notes that the trial comes as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) "has proposed legislation that would permanently bar the District from spending local dollars on abortions for poor women in most circumstances."

The Washington Post reports that D.C. officials, including Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), have so far had a "cautious" response to Issa's bill, which has not yet been filed.

Flickr photo by Sapphireblue

RELATED VIDEO: Protesters arrested during April 11, 2011, D.C. voting rights rally.