West Deptford Dems take up ordinance to stop picketing at Sweeney’s home

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

This story is priceless, Save Jerseyans.

Protesters peacefully protest in front of Sen. Sweeney's residence (6/7/15)
Protesters peacefully protest in front of Sen. Sweeney’s residence (6/7/15)

Background: you may have heard that pro-Second Amendment activists have peacefully protested in front of Senate President Steve Sweeney’s West Deptford (Gloucester County) home two Sundays in a row following the death of South Jerseyan Carol Bowne at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, pacing on the sidewalk and waving signs in a non-confrontation manner.

Ms. Bowne had applied to purchase a gun but didn’t get approved in time to save her own life thanks, the protesters believe, to gun control laws supported by the Sen. Sweeney and his caucus.

How is the 3-2 Democrat township committee responding to these protesters? By moving to outlaw the protests. At this Wednesday’s meeting, they plan to deliberate on a proposed ordinance which, according to the revised agenda (not the one first listed on the municipal website), would amend gut and rewrite West Deptford’s loitering law, and the new language contained in § 106-2. “Restrictions on Residential Picketing” is pretty obviously aimed directly at the Sweeney protesters:

No person or persons shall engage in picketing that is targeted at and is within one hundred (100) feet of the property line of a residential dwelling in West Deptford. Lawful picketing beyond the one hundred (100) feet restriction shall be limited to a group of no more than ten persons for one hour every two weeks. Persons intending to conduct lawful picketing must notify the West Deptford police department at least twenty-four hours prior to any intended instance of picketing.”

Henceforth, picketing is defined as “the standing, gathering or parading of one or more persons with or without signs of protest or claims at a location within West Deptford for the purpose of expressing personal opinions on one or more subjects.” Violators could face a $2,000 fine, up to 90 days imprisonment in the county jail and 90 days of community service.

Nerd time! Now, the applicable constitutional principles at play here have been litigated continuously over the years (we often see them in political context when towns try to ban/limit yard signs). Long story short, as a general matter under the U.S. Constitution, the government can impose only “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions” on free speech in a public space (including a sidewalk) provided the regulation is narrowly-tailored. In other words, the government can restrict a downtown sidewalk protest to avoid obstructing foot traffic but only to the extent necessary to do so.

But what about a residential sidewalk?

Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor

For a New Jersey-specific devil’s advocate argument, I highly recommend checking out this brief (and this one, too) filed by the ACLU of New Jersey in an ongoing Trenton case. New Jersey’s Supreme Court has adopted a hostile posture to anti-loitering measures, a trend that hasn’t abated. West Deptford’s new ordinance does that and is viewpoint neutral but it imposes very suspect restrictions on speech and the right of assembly in the residential context.

However, to be entirely fair, we haven’t seen much protection afforded to protests targeted at individual homes at the federal level and some states have so-called “targeted residential picketing” statutes on the books. Here in the Garden State, courts have cited Frisby v. Schultz for the proposition that targeted residential picketing is not protected when balanced against a private homeowner’s privacy rights as articulated by Sandra Day O’Connor. So protesters can march on a sidewalk, just not stand outside one individual residential home. We think.

O’Connor seemed to stop short of condoning a ban on ALL residential picketing, restricting her disapproval to that subject case’s activities aimed at one home. Would the West Deptford ordinance, directing that even protests outside the 100-foot threshold be “limited to a group of no more than ten persons for one hour every two weeks,” be deemed overly-broad? Is that a de facto prohibition on all residential picketing given the close proximity of homes/sidewalks in the suburban South Jersey community? And is the one hour time limit passable?

Bottom line: I wouldn’t be shocked if a legal challenge is forthcoming.

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22 thoughts on “West Deptford Dems take up ordinance to stop picketing at Sweeney’s home

  1. If on public property it certainly is constitutional, but remember; we got upset when people protested at Republican politician’s households. You can’t have it both ways. I think there is plenty enough room to protest in Trenton or at Sweeney’s office, and I think the family deserves their privacy.

  2. I am pro-2nd Amendment and understand the motivation for protesting in this case, but I don’t think it is ever acceptable to protest at anyone’s home. Their families do not have anything to do with their jobs. I believe Sweeney still has an office out on Kings Highway where the protestors would probably be much more visible to traffic anyway.

  3. Illegal ordinance. Public sidewalk they have a right. Sue their sorry arses! Steven Sweeney is a Swine and should be thrown out of office and perhaps put in jail is what I have heard.

  4. Did Carol Bowne have peace at her home? No, Sweeney saw to that. Until a citizen can freely arm and defend themselves in their own home, Sweeney doesn’t deserves his peace. Democrats failed policies have cost law abiding lives.

  5. Getting upset over the protest and passing a law to make it illegal are two different things entirely.

  6. I’m not entirely on board with the 2A with this issue for a number of reasons just based on my contact with them and the lack of transparency and what I think is a politically motivated ploy. For the record, I’m a Registered Democrat and would support a recall on Sweeny, but not for the reasons that don’t seem to be well articulated.
    I think that the Browne case is straw man argument for a broader political agenda.

    What concerns me more on this issue are the questions that are now raised by Sweeny for escalating a single issue campaign to a broader issue of prior restraint and all the other issues around “loitering” which been narrowly defined by the courts, and I don’t see how WD will prevail in a Court challenge on the issue.

    I don’t see any tangible support for the protest locally, the participant’s for the most part are from out of this area. Were is the local outrage ?

  7. I’ll second that. A time and place for everything. Not to diminish their right to peaceable assembly. Just ill conceived from my perspective….

  8. Just further proof that Sweeney the pig is a Swine and uses connections to get things for himself that are denied to the unconnected. Like any other pig he should be made to squeal and put out to pasture.

    So first Swiney the pig wants to take away your second amendment rights and now he wants to take away your first amendment rights. What next? He represents everything wrong with this country today and those in this screwed up town should be thankful that people can speak their mind. This is the type crap you would expect in Iran or North Korea not in the USA, but let’s all remember we are in the State of NEw Jermany where Trenton thrives on taking away rights from its citizens. Its a shame too many of the sheeple in NJ don’t see what is going on here. This is a total outrage. The goal of the protests is to educate and get people in the area to put pressure on the Swinester.

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