TRI In The News
Federal Court Rules Political Party Can Sue DNR
From The Charleston Gazette
Original article available here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge has refused to dismiss a First Amendment lawsuit a political party filed after the Division of Natural Resources said the party couldn't distribute literature and collect signatures for a candidate petition drive at a state park.
The DNR had asked Chief U.S. District Judge John Bailey to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing among other things that agency officials cannot be sued and that the federal court doesn't have jurisdiction.
The Constitution Party of West Virginia sued last April following a September 2007 incident at Stonewall Jackson State Park. Party members sought to use a National Hunting and Fishing Day event at the Lewis County park to collect signatures to put their candidates on West Virginia's ballot. The event featured booths and information displays on issues such as the preservation of the Blackwater Canyon, the party's lawsuit said.
DNR officials, however, told party members to stop collecting signatures because the activity was not authorized under park and DNR rules and policies.
The party later asked DNR Director Frank Jezioro for assurances it could seek signatures at the park. In his reply, Jezioro denied the request, saying a state rule prohibits "hawking, peddling, soliciting, begging, advertising, or carrying on any business or commercial enterprise'' in a state park, forest or wildlife management area without the DNR director's written permission.
Officials followed up by asking Jezioro for any regulations outlining how the public might seek permission. Jezioro did not respond.
Party members then sued, claiming their civil and constitutional rights were violated. The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Va.-based civil rights group, filed the suit on their behalf.
The lawsuit asks that court to tell DNR it may not ban people from collecting signatures in state parks and to declare the rule requiring the director's permission to do so unconstitutional.
Last Friday, Bailey entered a 17-page ruling that allowed the case to continue. But Bailey said he did not have the jurisdiction to consider the Constitutional Party's request regarding an injunction over the DNR's management of state parks.
"Americans have a First Amendment right to freedom of political expression,'' Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead said in a news release. "We have a right to be heard.''
DNR spokesman Hoy Murphy did not have an immediate comment Thursday on Bailey's ruling.