Port: ACLU argues that anti-pipeline rioters had a right to block public roads

The Thunderhawk vs. Kirchmeier suit, which was filed late last year, challenges the state government's decision to shut down a highway that was routinely blocked by protesters during the often violent #NoDAPL protests.

Forum Photos of the decade 2010s.03.jpg
A protester pours gasoline on a fire blocking North Dakota Highway 1806 on Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline were attempting to keep law enforcement officers from pushing them off the road and out of their camp. Forum file photo

MINOT, N.D. — One consistent tactic of the political extremists who use violent protests to disrupt pipeline construction is the blocking of roads.

It's a tactic built on fear and intimidation. We are to give the protesters what they want, or they will hurt us by disrupting our communities, vandalizing our property, etc.

Now, in a ludicrous amicus brief filed in a lawsuit filed by activists who fought the Dakota Access Pipeline, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing that rural roads are a "traditional public forum" for political activities.

You're reading that right.

They believe the middle of a public road, where cars and trucks drive, is a valid place for protesters to gather and, well, protest.


"[A]s one of the few communal spaces in rural areas, these roads are uniquely positioned to offer rural communities — and those wishing to address them — a public space in which to associate, communicate thoughts and discuss public issues," the ACLU said in a news release.

“The government’s argument ignores the history of protest in our country, and it misunderstands our First Amendment rights. Our right to protest in the streets is essential, and it shouldn’t depend on the location or other characteristics of the specific road we choose,” Andrew Malone, ACLU of North Dakota staff attorney, says in the organization's release.

Roads can indeed be a valid place for public demonstration. We routinely block them off for things like marches and parades. Roads belong to everybody. The people who want to use them to get to work or a doctor's appointment have as much right to them as the anti-pipeline zealots who burn gasoline in cars to travel to protests against pipelines that carry the oil which makes the gasoline they put in their cars.

This is why our various levels of government typically have a permit process so that protests and marches can be scheduled, and those uses of public spaces like roads can be balanced against the public's other uses.

The Thunderhawk vs. Kirchmeier suit, which was filed late last year, challenges the state government's decision to shut down a highway that protesters routinely blocked during the often violent #NoDAPL protests.

This was done for safety, as any person who observed the protests could readily discern. Had it been left open, there was a genuine possibility that protesters and/or travelers could have been injured or killed.


The plaintiffs, and the ACLU, which, let's face it, is a group that only cares about the liberties of some Americans as long as they're in line with very narrow left-wing philosophies, argue that the government closed the road to deny the protesters their right to assemble.

This is why they have to argue that a political assembly organized in the middle of a rural highway without coordination with or sanction from the authorities who manage that highway way is somehow a valid use of First Amendment rights.

It would be hard for the government to unconstitutionally shut down a lawful protest if the protest in question wasn't lawful to begin with.

This reasoning is ridiculous for any rational person, but, again, we're dealing with a group of people who want to block oil development by blocking the construction of oil pipelines, all while simultaneously using oil.

These are not deep thinkers.

But, hey, at least we taxpayers get to pay for the defense against this nonsense.

To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What To Read Next
Get Local