Violence engulfed cities across the U.S. last summer as demonstrators took the streets to protest alleged police brutality and what they called systemic racism. In response to the unrest, then-President Donald Trump’s Justice Department moved to charge some of the accused rioters under a 1968 federal law known as the Civil Obedience Act.
While attorneys for one of the defendants have claimed that the Johnson-era anti-riot law is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Alabama has now made clear that he doesn’t agree.
According to Politico, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Moorer rejected arguments last week that the legislation is a racist relic that interferes with First Amendment activities.
Judge drops the hammer
Moorer, who Politico said was the first Black judge appointed to the federal judiciary by President Trump, remarked that while the law in question was largely forgotten about for decades, it is now being widely applied to those of all racial backgrounds.
“While [civil disorder law] prosecutions may not be common, it is clearly being applied now to a variety of persons — between the few cases that stemmed from the George Floyd protests that turned into civil disorder and more recently the cases asserted against some participants in the events on January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol,” the judge said, according to Politico.
“Each of the…prosecutions that arose from those protests encompass individuals of a variety of races and genders with extremely different ideology,” Moorer added.
1A doesn’t protect criminal behavior
In his 24-page opinion, Moorer also dismissed assertions that the law was being used to impede constitutionally protected freedoms like speech and assembly.
“The First Amendment,” he pointed out, “does not give individuals the right to break a generally applicable law for expressive purposes.”
Moorer went on to stress that the law in question isn’t aimed at stopping “expression or association.” Instead, he said, it bans “the deliberate act of obstructing, impeding, or interfering with law enforcement performing their duties at a civil disorder.”
“Don’t look back”
Moorer’s ruling means that prosecutors can begin making their case against Tia Pugh, a 22-year-old who reportedly stands accused of breaking the windshield on a police car in Mobile, Alabama with a baseball bat.
Pugh’s lead attorney told Politico that the ruling was “disappointing, but not entirely unexpected,” and said the defense would push ahead. “Now, we turn to the trial and don’t look back,” the lawyer said.
If convicted, Pugh faces up to five years in federal prison, Politico reports.