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Monday, March 3, 2008

Republican National Convention will put free speech to the test

We are now six months away from the start of the Republican National Convention right here in Minnesota. (Hmmm. Will it be McCain or McCain who is nominated?)

Minnesota is pretty protective of First Amendment rights. No doubt that proclivity will be put to the ultimate test as protesters of all stripes descend upon the Twin Cities to air their grievances at the convention. Folks will be there who are anti-war, pro-choice, anti-death penalty, pro-same-sex marriage, anti-tax cut, pro nationalized health care, etc ., etc., etc. ... All of them will have three things in common: they'll be carrying picket signs; they'll be chanting loudly; and they'll be relying on their free-speech rights to make sure their concerns are heard.

On the other end of the equation are police and public officials, who want to make sure that order is maintained and that the protests don't interfere with the rights of locals and those here to participate in the convention. It's a delicate balance that can best be summed up in the words of that great high court jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."

And speaking of noses, we are going to get a whiff today of what free-speech arguments are to come. The anti-war protesters apparently do not think that the permitting process recently announced by St. Paul police passes the smell test. They plan a press conference at 4 p.m. today to announce their official response.

For the next six months, Minnesota's free-speech jurisprudence will devolop as if it were on steroids. Here's to hoping that by the time the convention is over and the out-of-town protesters have left, Minnesotans free-speech protections are as strong or stronger than they are today.

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