MADISON, WI – March 31, 2014 – The Solidarity Singers of Wisconsin have scored a major victory in court. Forty four of the cases citing the peaceful protesters have been thrown out, ruled unconstitutional by Dane county Judge Maryann Sumi.
The singers were participants in the “Solidarity Sing Alongs” where hundreds were arrested and cited for singing in their state capitol to protest policies of Governor Scott Walker. Earlier this month, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Aleykhina from Pussy Riot appeared in a video from The Voice Project, expressing support for the Solidarity Singers.
Dismissing all the cases before her, 44 cases against 27 people cited for singing in the Capitol rotunda last summer, Judge Maryann Sumi is the fourth judge in the last two months to find the administrative rules unconstitutional. Singers who had been arrested and cited during the protests received letters starting on Friday from the court.
Over the weekend the singers took to Facebook to celebrating Judge Sumi’s decision:
Citation dismissed! I was arrested for singing in the Wisconsin State Capitol on August 8, one of about 400 arrested as part of the Solidarity Singalong last year. I had to pay a fine and spend three hours in the slammer. Yesterday Maryann Sumi became the latest Dane County Judge to dismiss the citations in her court (including mine), because Gov. Walker’s administrative rule on unlawful assembly “violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” … Thanks to Patricia K Hammel for all her legal work, and to all our friends who continue to fight tyranny and sing every weekday at noon.
–Zoltán Grossman, Facebook post on Saturday, March 29, 2014
Previously, on March 10, Judge Frank Remington dismissed cases before him, and on March 20 Judge Richard Niess dismissed his remaining Solidarity Singer cases. However, even though judges continue to rule on the unconstitutionality of the arrests and citations of Solidarity Singers and not a single prosecution attempted by the Department of Justice under attorney general J.B. Van Hollen has been successful, Attorney general Van Hollen’s office has still been pursuing these prosecutions against the peaceful demonstrators. “The Walker administration and Attorney General Van Hollen have continued with what certainly seems to be an attempt to intimidate citizens from exercising free speech and free assembly by pursuing these cases, even in the face of the overwhelming and ongoing judicial defeats they are facing,” said Voice Project executive director Hunter Heaney.
Judge Sumi stated in her dismissal order that “For the reasons well stated in State of Wisconsin v. Michael Crute” that the administrative rule “violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” and that “an unconstitutional rule is void and unenforceable.”
Moreover, Judge Peter Anderson had ordered the Dept. of Justice to prepare a cost benefit analysis of the hundreds of prosecutions by April 1. On March 27 Assistant Attorney General Daniel Lennington, one of the attorneys who argued the federal court case, Kissick v. Huebsch in April 2013 that resulted in an injunction against the enforcement of the rules, sent a letter in reply. Lennington’s letter refused to provide any statement of costs or benefits, instead claiming that by adopting rules to regulate use of the Capitol the Governor and legislature had determined that no enforcement cost was too high for “ensuring the safety of visitors” or “enabling elected officials…to do their business” in the Capitol unimpeded.
“The Capitol Police and Dept. of Justice don’t want people to know how much taxpayer money is being wasted on arresting peaceful singers,” replied Attorney Patricia Hammel, who represents ten defendants including five whose cases have now been dismissed by the courts. “The Solidarity Sing Along is continuing with no arrests for the first sixteen months or the last six months, and the “business” of the legislature, limiting voting rights, denying recourse to victims of asbestos exposure and trying to strip local communities of the power to pass living wage or mining ordinances goes on unimpeded, despite popular opposition to such measures. There have been no reports of any visitors being injured by singing, either.”
“We all owe a tremendous debt to the participants of the Solidarity Sing Along as well as the lawyers who continue to fight, and to the judges who are standing up to the administration by protecting the constitution,” said Heaney. “These are the front lines of fighting for democracy in this country and it’s happening right now in Wisconsin.”