For over 15 years, a small group of anti-Israel activists have been protesting in front of a synagogue in Ann Arbor. Although the protests are peaceful and quiet, and the participants stay on a public sidewalk, they are very controversial and are viewed by many as anti-Semitic. In 2019 a member of the synagogue filed a federal lawsuit against the protesters, seeking a court-ordered injunction to stop the protests and damages for emotional distress.
In March 2020 the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief condemning the protesters’ speech and tactics but arguing that the speech is nonetheless protected by the First Amendment. We pointed out that if the lawsuit against these protesters is allowed to proceed, activists who peacefully protest on public sidewalks about a wide range of issues, including abortion rights, animal welfare, and the environment, could be targets of litigation, which would have an overall chilling effect on speech and political activity for ordinary citizens. In August 2020 Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the protests are protected by the First Amendment. The plaintiffs appealed, and in January 2021 we filed our friend-of-the-court brief in the Sixth Circuit.
In September 2021, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit finding that the defendants’ unpopular speech fit is protected by the First Amendment.
(Gerber v. Herskovitz; ACLU of Michigan Attorney Dan Korobkin; National ACLU Attorneys Brian Hauss, Ben Wizner, Dan Mach, and David Cole.)