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Court says park curfew law used to arrest Occupy Chicago protesters is constitutional

An Illinois appeals court says a Chicago curfew law invoked to arrest Occupy protesters at the city’s best known park in 2011 doesn’t violate free speech rights.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate Court reverses a lower-court finding that the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew at the 319-acre Grant Park violated protesters’ constitutional rights.

In the unanimous, 21-page opinion this week, the appellate court said the city of Chicago has legitimate interests in shutting down such parks overnight, among them to dissuade criminal activity after dark and to give maintenance crews unencumbered access.

“The first amendment, while offering a host of protections, does not guarantee the right to employ every conceivable method of communication at all times and in all places,” the ruling said.

In his 2012 ruling, Cook County Judge Thomas Donnelly noted that Grant Park has long been a “quintessential public forum,” including for demonstrators who clashed with police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Several thousand anti-Wall Street protesters had gathered in the park in October 2011, though some left when police warned they would be arrested after the park closed. About 300 were arrested for not leaving. Only 92 fought the charges in court and Tuesday’s court ruling reinstates their cases.

Moly Armour, alawyer representing some of the anti-Wall Street demonstrators, criticized the ruling, pointing to more recent nationwide protests to illustrate the importance of unfettered rallies.

The “decision strikes a blow to protest movements at the very moment we see how essential they are to the national dialogue and to affecting fundamental social justice,” Armour said.

The city’s law department welcomed the ruling.

“The city is committed to healthy political debate, the right to free speech and peaceful assembly but does not condone illegal conduct,” spokesman John Holden said