Conservative lawmakers have put forward laws criminalizing protests in at least 18 states since 2017 that civil liberties advocates say are unconstitutional
From the Standing Rock camps in North Dakota to tree-sits in Texas, activists have attempted to stop pipeline construction with massive shows of civil disobedience. Now they could be forced to change those tactics, or face heavy penalties under a wave of new anti-protest laws that civil liberties advocates say violate the first amendment.
Conservative lawmakers have put forward laws criminalizing protests that disrupt the construction and operation of pipelines in at least 18 states since 2017.
Seven states have passed laws that ratchet up the penalties for activists protesting or even planning protests of oil and gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure
At least six more states are considering such laws
In each case, misdemeanors are elevated to felonies, and criminal and civil punishments are escalated drastically
The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have mounted challenges against such laws in Louisiana and South Dakota.
This is a trend that shows no sign of slowing, let alone stopping, said Elly Page, who has been tracking anti-protest legislation for more than two years as a legal adviser for the International Center for Non-Profit Law.
The laws purport to only criminalize violence and property damage in service of pipeline safety, but critics say their greater intent appears to be to deter nonviolent civil disobedience by framing it as potentially violent in itself.
The bills have mostly found fertile legislative ground in places where gas and oil companies already wield significant political and economic power and where anti-fossil fuel protests have been especially successful. But watchdogs say theres every reason to believe more of these types of laws will be passed, and that they will chill activism otherwise protected by the first amendment.
This is a miscasting of protesters as economic terrorists and saboteurs when in fact theyre going out and having their voices heard about why these pipelines are problematic for their communities and the environment, said Vera Eidelman, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. Even if folks havent been charged, the fact that these laws are on the books can seriously chill people and make them fearful of getting their voices out, she added.