LETTER: SB 189 and First Amendment rights
To the Editor:
The governor and legislators of South Dakota vowed to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.
The First Amendment to the Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
But it appears they forgot this when passing Senate Bill 189, to establish a fund to receive civil recoveries to offset costs incurred by riot boosting, to make a continuous appropriation therefor, and declare an emergency.
Section three of the bill reads, "A person is subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state for riot boosting that results in a riot in this state, regardless of whether the person engages in riot boosting personally, or through any employee, agent, or subsidiary".
Chapter 22-10 of the State's codified law defines riot as "any use of force or violence or any threat to use force or violence, if accompanied by immediate power of execution, by three or more persons, acting together and without authority of law, is riot."
The word threat is wide open to interpretation and no consideration is given as to how and by whom the supposed violence was initiated. So how do we determine when a riot occurs? Once that is determined, we must consider whether of not it was "boosted." Since there doesn't seem to be a legal definition of boosting the judgement of its existence is necessarily arbitrary.
These flaws make it highly likely that both the freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble are at risk.
The bottom line is you could be held accountable for three times any alleged damage from a "riot" if you discussed the Keystone XL pipeline with someone who ends up protesting its construction. The State of South Dakota would sue you on behalf of TransCanada.
Is a foreign company to have more rights here than a citizen or will this law be stricken down as unconstitutional?
Mark Winegar, Executive Director