Jan 23, 2024 - Politics

Cleveland City Council amends public comment rules as lawsuit lingers

Illustration of Cleveland City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Cleveland City Council amended its public comment rules at its meeting Monday night, hoping to bring to an end a lawsuit filed by a public commenter whose mic was cut off during remarks this fall.

Driving the news: The new policy prohibits "frivolous or repetitive" comments and forbids language "that is obscene or likely to produce imminent unlawful action."

  • It also outlaws food and drink — at a recent meeting, a demonstrator brought persimmons to share, and council members worried that the fruit would be used as projectiles — along with signs, banners and placards, which were already banned.

What they're saying: "With these proposed changes, council hopes to ensure an orderly and fair process that allows people to express themselves on matters of public interest," council president Blaine Griffin said in a statement.

  • "These revised rules will be applied to all speakers in a manner that does not discriminate based on the identity of the speaker, content of speech, or viewpoint of the speaker."

The other side: The First Amendment Law Clinic at Case Western Reserve University, which is representing public commenter Chris Martin in an ongoing lawsuit, said the new rules still contain "vague and problematic" language.

  • "We're glad that council removed many of the portions we challenged and that the new proposed policy now explicitly references viewpoint neutrality," the law clinic posted on X.
  • "But this doesn't resolve the litigation, and ultimately the real First Amendment test will be how council applies it."
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