Judge Delivers & Revises "Disproportionate" Sentence for Videotaped Civil Disobedience Against Citizens United
Washington D.C. - Seven activists with the democracy movement 99Rise were brought before the D.C. Superior Court on Thursday morning for their January 21st disruption of the United States Supreme Court, which was caught on video. Two plead guilty to three misdemeanor charges and were sentenced to five days in jail and barred from the Supreme Court grounds. On Friday afternoon they were released after a D.C. judge cut their jail sentence to one day, including time already served.
The government prosecutor suggested that defendants Margaret Johnson and Curt Ries be given two years probation, arguing that peaceful protest within the high court is unacceptable. The prosecution explicitly drew a distinction between demonstrations before Congress, which should be answerable to the people, and the "independent" Court, which deserved insulation from public criticism.
Apparently swayed, Judge Ann O'Regan Keary originally sentenced Johnson and Ries to five days in jail after they refused probation and a government plea deal. She revised her sentence the next day, commenting that jail time was a "disproportionate" response to the conduct of civil disobedience and that it would be "a departure" from ordinary sentencing, signaling that the Supreme Court should not receive extraordinary legal protections from peaceful protest.
"The idea that out nation's highest court is and should be unanswerable and unaccountable to the people whose lives their rulings ultimately determine is both dangerous and deeply undemocratic," remarked Curt Ries after being released from court. "When we the people are prohibited from exercising our right to peaceably express a popular grievance against our government, we've lost our democracy. We stood up in the Supreme Court to both exercise that right and to call attention to the fact that as long as money is speech and corporations are people, we cannot have political equality and we will not be equally represented by our government."
Ries and Johnson plead guilty to three misdemeanor charges, including: "Firearms, Fireworks, Speeches & Objectionable Language in Supreme Court Building and Grounds", "Creating Noise or Disturbance on Supreme Court Grounds" and "Demonstrating Within the Supreme Court". Five other 99Rise leaders were charged with the same counts and will return to court in a month's time, when they will find out if they are eligible for a diversion issued by the prosecution.
The "Supreme Court 7" were arrested on January 21st, 2015 for protesting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which permitted unlimited "independent" spending in public elections by corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals. On February 26th, 2014 99Rise co-founder Kai Newkirkk also disrupted proceedings within the courtroom, declaring that "Money is not speech. Corporations are not people. And our democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder." Both actions were caught on video, which is strictly prohibited within the chamber.