ACLU will defend conservative activist
CARSON CITY – The American Civil Liberties Union will defend Janine Hansen and her son against trespassing charges filed after her Thursday arrest while trying to gather signatures for two initiative petitions at Reno’s Citifare bus center.
Hansen, longtime conservative activist and Independent American Party official, was taken into custody along with son Zachary Triggs, 25, transported to the Washoe County Jail and held seven hours after she refused to accept the Regional Transportation Commission’s policies restricting petition gathering.
“Not only are there basic, fundamental First Amendment principles involved, there is also a state statute that was very clearly violated by the RTC,” said ACLU General Counsel Allen Lichtenstein.
He said state law provides that people gathering signatures for petitions have a right to do so at public buildings and, when they tell officials at those public facilities they are coming, they have to be provided an area in which to set up and collect petitions.
He said nothing in state law allows the RTC to impose conditions including providing them three days notice and restricting signature gathering to areas where they don’t have full access to people using the bus terminal.
“They knew Janine and her cohorts were going to be there because she told them and they said, well, you didn’t jump through our hoops so we’re going to arrest you, and they did,” said Lichtenstein. “If the government doesn’t think it has to obey the law, then how can they expect anybody else to?”
Dick Siegel of ACLU in Reno said the RTC has made prior agreements with ACLU and that there should never have been a problem with Hansen’s request.
“Our position is if people are actually obstructing the public, that is a valid restriction,” he said. “Generally everything else goes on public sidewalks and public facilities.”
Siegel said it’s ironic since the petitions she was trying to collect names for include one that would bar all public employees from serving in the Legislature. ACLU last week filed a brief with the Nevada Supreme Court opposing the petition designed to remove public employees from legislative service.
“It’s one of those fun ACLU moments,” he said.
Lichtenstein said the Reno city attorney may agree with ACLU on the case and dismiss the charges, but that he believes the issue must be resolved.
“The type of illegal and unconstitutional treatment she was subjected to has to be stopped and not occur again regardless of who the petitioners are,” he said. “If rights are not everybody’s rights, then they’re no one’s rights.”