Restrictions on Public Comment During Board Meetings Did Not Violate Free Speech
In July 2014 Rosemary Vega (Vega) was removed from a public meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (Board) for “disruptive behavior,” and she was subsequently prohibited from attending any Board meetings until March 2017. Vega sued the Board, alleging her removal and prohibition from attending meetings violated her First Amendment Free Speech rights.
Reviewing the facts, the Court discovered that over a fourth month period, Vega had demonstrated “a persistent and escalating willingness to cause disturbances during Board meetings.” In March 2014, Vega exceeded her allotted two-minute speaking time and had to be ushered from the podium. In May 2014, Vega stated she would “get kicked out of the Board meeting every month for two minutes for the next how many years you got of life.” In July 2014, Vega violated the Board’s Public Participation Guidelines by rushing up the dais, yelling at a Board member, shaking her fist, and interrupting another speaker. Vega’s actions were perceived as threatening by security officers and she refused to leave when asked to.
The Court found that the Board’s enforcement of its Guidelines did not violate the First Amendment because they were content-neutral, and were not speaker- or content-based. The Court also found that the Board’s 2.5 year ban on Vega attending Board meetings was proper because it was narrowly tailored – it “did not burden more of Vega’s speech than necessary to maintain order during Board meetings or to ensure that members of the public who wished to address the Board in accordance with the Guidelines had that opportunity.” Finally, the Court found that even when Vega was prohibited from attending Board meetings, she had ample alternative channels of communication left, including meeting individually with Board members during their office hours and the ability to submit written testimony to the Board.