What is the legality of protests during a coronavirus stay-at-home order?

Apr 22, 2020, 1:26 PM
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Protesters in Olympia in April 2020. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With weekend protests in Olympia and May Day just around the corner, numerous people are wondering about the interplay between protests and Jay Inslee’s coronavirus stay-at-home order. He has not enforced anything against any of these protests as of yet, but could he?

Are these protests technically illegal under an emergency declaration, or do we still have the right to protest? Mike Vaska is a Seattle attorney and former chair of the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, and he’s currently running for state Attorney General. He joined the Jason Rantz Show to discuss.

“People are really hurting and we really need our governor to acknowledge that and give us a plan, tell us how we’re going to reopen the economy. Obviously, we don’t want to reignite the contagion either,” he said.

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“I’m a rule of law guy, and I think that people have a right to protest, but they should do it legally and lawfully,” he said. “I think these protesters here in Washington … ought to go through the front door and see if they could get a permit before they decide that they need a rebellion.”

As Jason noted, the governor has increased power during these emergency declarations. So under the guise of the emergency declaration can he actually forbid people from gathering to protest?

“Well, he has extraordinary power under the emergency power statute that he’s invoked. But it is a statute,” Vaska said. “It’s not part of the Washington State Constitution, and of course it’s subject to all of our constitutional rights. Protests, assemblies, meetings — they’re all subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in the normal course.”

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“I will say there’s not a lot of case law on this, but our Supreme Court has looked at these emergency powers and basically said the governor has a pretty wide berth during an emergency,” he added.

Vaska said the statute was initially drafted to deal with riots, and states that when public order is restored then the emergency powers end.

“How does that apply in a pandemic that could go on for 18 months? That’s something that no court has really looked at,” he said. “I would encourage protesters to go through the front door. Let’s be rule of law oriented here. If they don’t get a permit, go to a judge and ask for basically permission, or for an order that will let them legally exercise their constitutional rights.”

To learn more about his campaign, head to mikevaska.com.

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What is the legality of protests during a coronavirus stay-at-home order?