There’s a big problem with the “free speech” zones outside San Diego’s Trump rally

Daniel Watts Daniel Watts Leave a Comment


It’s not too hyperbolic to say that Donald Trump’s candidacy is the biggest threat to the First Amendment since the McCarthy hearings. But he’s not going it alone. With the help of the San Diego Police Department, America’s finest city has apparently established “free speech zones” near Friday’s Trump rally downtown. The street in front of the Convention Center has been divided into pro-Trump and anti-Trump zones, helpfully color-coded in blue and red, respectively, on the map issued by the police department.  Unfortunately, the map is woefully inaccurate, vastly understating the true size of the free speech zones:

The entire city is a free speech zone, according to the First Amendment.


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of people to speak freely in public forums like the sidewalks and plazas downtown – even when Trump’s in town. California’s Constitution is even more pro-speech, empowering citizens to protest and picket not only in public squares and parks, but also on certain private property like the food courts at shopping malls.

Don’t take my word for it; the Supreme Court has spoken, and it agrees with me. In its seminal 1980 case, Pruneyard v. Robins, it upheld the right of protesters in California to gather signatures on petitions at a shopping mall, whether the mall’s owners liked it or not. You see, by the 1980s, California’s shopping malls  had become so popular that they’d supplanted the roles of traditional public fora like town squares, replacing cities’ downtown cores as the public gathering places du jour. Since the right to speak freely is useless if nobody can hear you, California’s Supreme Court decided the state constitution protected trespassers over property owners, at least if the property is big enough – like, say, Horton Plaza. (Don’t worry; your backyard barbecue is still your safe haven.)

So the Trump free speech “zones” aren’t zones at all. They’re more like recommendations, albeit recommendations issued by the police department. And while those “recommendations” might be unconstitutional, you’d have to go to court to prove it. 


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