The Ramsey County District Court was the scene of the latest defeat on Tuesday for a group of protesters who want more and better space outside the Republican National Convention next week.
Judge Kathleen Gearin wrote that the area along West Seventh Street east of the Xcel Energy Center compares favorably with public space set up for other national political conventions, and that it affords more space than what's offered at this year's Democratic National Convention in Denver.
"Is the present area ideal? No," Gearin wrote. "Is it constitutionally adequate in light of all the relevant circumstances? Yes."
Several lawsuits had claimed that the area restricts free speech because it confines demonstrators to a single, confined area.
"We think it is the wrong result," said Teresa Nelson, attorney for the ACLU of Minnesota. "We think the city is putting logistics above the First Amendment."
St. Paul leaders decided to mark off about 180,000 square feet at the site diagonally across from the arena, and are providing a stage and microphone with access awarded through a lottery. Plaintiffs had demanded the size of that area be expanded, and the creation of an additional public viewing area.
One of the plaintiffs was Coleen Rowley, a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2006 who earned recognition as an FBI agent-turned-whistleblower after the 9/11 terror attacks.
"Now we must hope for the best," Rowley said.
Also involved in the lawsuits were a group called Impeach for Peace, the Twin Cities Peace Campaign and the Welfare Rights Committee.
Previous legal challenges to GOP convention-related restrictions had been turned back in federal court, and St. Paul officials contended that demonstrators were simply hoping for a better outcome in state court.
Gearin wrote that the plaintiffs' demands for larger public viewing areas had the potential to create logistical and security problems for the city of St. Paul, particularly so close to the Sept. 1 start of the convention.
"There will be times when the present public viewing area will be crowded and the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, as well as others, will be frustrated," Gearin wrote. "There are so many individuals and groups that want to be heard on public issues that that would be inevitable, even if a larger area were possible."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)