PIERRE, S.D. — In the latest development in a lawsuit against state officials, the American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal court to stop South Dakota from enforcing Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's anti-"riot boosting" law while their court battle plays out.
The ACLU on Tuesday, May 21, filed a reply with the U.S. District Court in South Dakota in support of six plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. If granted by the court, a preliminary injunction would stop the state from enforcing state riot laws that the ACLU and plaintiffs argue are unconstitutional.
The ACLU filed its federal court challenge to the laws March 28, after Noem signed her controversial pipeline bill package into law. The laws went into effect immediately upon her signing.
She introduced the package in the final days of the 2019 legislative session in anticipation of TC Energy (formally known as TransCanada)'s Keystone XL pipeline construction through the state.
One of Noem's two bills establishes civil penalties for so-called riot boosting, or encouraging pipeline protesters to engage in violence. Under the law, a riot booster would not have to personally participate in the violent protest to be found guilty and charged for damages, which could ultimately be recovered by TC Energy.
Plaintiffs argue that the law limits free speech by preventing activists from engaging in constitutionally protected speech and assembly for fear of repercussions. They argue that the laws are written unconstitutionally vaguely, preventing protesters from knowing whether their speech is illegal or not.
Noem and Attorney General Ravnsborg are defendants in the case, and contend that the laws are, indeed, constitutional and have asked the court to dismiss the case. Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom has also asked to be dismissed from the case, saying he should not be made to defend the constitutionality of state laws. The ACLU said Thom is an appropriate defendant because he will likely have to enforce the laws during anticipated protests located in his county.