Political gadfly and perennial presidential hopeful Vermin Supreme is suing the city of Concord, New Hampshire, because it denied him a permit to protest outside a Hillary Clinton book-singing. The protest Supreme envisions involves him and two live ponies appearing outside Gibson's Bookstore, where Clinton will appear on December 5.
Supreme hopes to compel local officials to issue him a protest permit, or at least to prevent them from taking action against the protest.
This is part of Supreme's standard schtick: a "political platform" centered on government-funded ponies for all Americans, complete with a federal pony identification system and a rule that people have their equine companion with them at all times. ("Some voters have interpreted this as commentary, satire, and political parody about a political system that rewards candidates who promise free benefits without discussing cost or practicality," the suit states.)
Supreme's pony platform is one of many ways the performance-art-influenced activist attempts to comment on government overreach.
But while ponies are allowed at the location where he planned to protest, and while city officials were willing to let him bring them there a different day, they denied him a permit to protest on the day of Clinton's book signing. Eugene Blake, an officer with the Concord Health & Licensing Services Department, allegedly told Supreme's team that the sole reason for denying the protest permit was to avoid interfering with Clinton's book event.
This is an "unconstitutional prior restraint on activity that is at the core of the First Amendment," states Supreme's suit, penned by prolific First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza.
"Supreme's message will be lost if he is not able to protest Hillary Clinton outside near the book signing" on the day it takes place, the lawsuit says, noting that Clinton's book references and criticizes a hypothetical free-pony platform and that this forms the basis for Supreme's protest idea. "Given that Mrs. Clinton will likely only have a book signing of this particular book in the City of Concord once, and given that Mr. Supreme's groundswell of support is in New Hampshire, the ability to share his political speech at this protest is likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Randazza argues that the city's actions do not fall within the scope of reasonable "time, place, and manner restrictions" on speech, as such restrictions must be narrowly tailored to serve a substantial government aim and not subject to broad discretion by bureaucrats. In this case, his lawsuit argues, the city's decision "was not even thought out—much less thought out so that it would be narrowly tailored." What's more, making a private book signing more convenient or pleasant for Clinton and her fans is not a legitimate government interest.
The city did not even cite safety concerns, the suit states. But even if it did, this worry would be misplaced: "To the best of the Plaintiff's knowledge, no pony has ever attacked an American politician—and presumably the Secret Service would be able to intervene, should Mr. Supreme try and find some way to break that drought in pony-on-politician violence."