The ACLU of North Dakota opposes Senate Bill 2044, a bill that would increase the legal penalties for tampering with or damaging a critical infrastructure facility or public service.
This bill, like similar legislation in Oklahoma and Colorado, builds on a trend of anti-protest legislation that aims to chill protesters from using precisely those tactics that have proven most successful for getting their voices heard.
“Senate Bill 2044 punishes association, and will almost certainly stifle protected speech,” said Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU of North Dakota. “It would criminalize activity far beyond the intentional causing of property damage, extending penalties to activity such as ‘interfering with’ or ‘inhibiting’ the operations of critical infrastructure, terms so vague as to be nearly meaningless and criminal penalties may be imposed without evidence of any intent at all. This is unconstitutional."
Additionally, Senate Bill 2044 would punish organizations “found to be a conspirator” with those individuals found to be in violation of the new prohibitions ten times over, a provision aimed squarely at punishing associational activities. Making an organization criminally liable for all damage would impermissibly burden the rights of political association that are protected by the First Amendment – the literal embodiment of guilt by association.
“At best, this bill is entirely unnecessary. At worst, it is meant to chill speech. Existing law already prohibits trespass and malicious destruction of property and conspiracies to commit the same. Given that, this bill’s focus on critical infrastructure facilities belies its neutral purpose – as do its excessive fines,” Smith said. “A person cannot lawfully be prosecuted for using truthful information to sway public opinion.”
Decisions made during the biannual sessions of the North Dakota Legislature have a deep and lasting impact on our state’s people and communities. As new laws are created and others repealed or written, it’s important to ensure that these changes preserve and strengthen our constitutional rights.
The ACLU of North Dakota monitors a wide range of issues at the legislature. Our education and lobbying efforts are aimed at informing both lawmakers and the public about the civil rights and civil liberties implications of the bills proposed by our elected officials. For up-to-date information on the bills the ACLU of North Dakota is tracking, go to www.aclund.org.
About the ACLU of North Dakota
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota is a non-partisan organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection, and privacy are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBT communities. The ACLU of North Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for people of North Dakota.