A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of four people who were involved in a protest during one of Gov. Andy Beshear’s news conferences in April.
The individuals sued the governor after barricades were put up around the Capitol building while they were protesting. The lawsuit states that Kentucky State Police (KSP) also “restricted the public’s access to the area on the southeast side of the Capitol building where the governor’s briefings take place in an effort to ‘minimize the impact of the protests during his daily press conference.'”
The individuals were part of a group protesting restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic, including an order prohibiting “mass gatherings” that was issued on March 19.
In the lawsuit, the individuals claimed protests were not on the list of exemptions to that order. The group claimed their rights to free speech and to peacefully demonstrate were violated.
Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove agreed. In his 24-page ruling, Tatenhove said Beshear had “gone too far” and “his power is not absolute.”
“Even in times of crisis, the Constitution puts limits on governmental action … .” the judge wrote. “… A blanket prohibition on gathering in large groups to express constitutionally protected speech is unconstitutional. When liberty is at stake, policy makers must be more precise.”
The lawsuit asked for a temporary restraining order to keep government leaders from criminally charging the protesters, forcing them into quarantine and preventing further protests.
“We are pleased to see the court’s ruling today that supports the right of Kentuckians to exercise free speech and peaceably assemble,” Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Camereon said in a statement to WDRB News. “We filed an amicus brief in this case because the constitutional rights of Kentuckians must be protected by our elected leaders and cannot be violated or cast aside, even during a pandemic.”