Lawsuits Filed Over Donald Trump’s Privatization of Pennsylvania Avenue, “America’s Main Street”
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund reports:
PCJF sues D.C. and federal government to force release of documents related to turnover of historic quintessential public space
Defending the right to protest, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has gone to court regarding the “deals” reached by federal and District of Columbia officials with the Trump Organization that appear to privatize portions of Pennsylvania Avenue, one of the country’s most historically significant sites for free speech and public assembly.
A section of Pennsylvania Avenue, a National Historic Site that runs from the White House to the Capitol, will be turned over for the use of the Trump Organization along with the large (7,000 square foot) previously public plaza that features an 1889 Benjamin Franklin statue and that abuts the soon-to-open Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office, as well as a portion of the sidewalk space abutting the Avenue.
The turnover of these spaces creates a “buffer zone” that appears to suppress or extinguish free speech in proximity to the building leased by Trump, restricting access to priority or exclusive use of the Trump Organization.
For over five months, through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, the PCJF has sought disclosure of information regarding negotiations, agreements, and the terms and conditions of restrictions on, or exclusions of, free speech activities and public access to these spaces. The PCJF has issued public records requests to the General Services Administration, the National Park Service/Department of the Interior, and the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department and Mayor’s Office seeking communications, emails, requests, applications and agreements, as well as any evaluations of the effect of imposed restrictions on public access to public space and the exercise of First Amendment rights. The agencies and entities in whose possession this information remains have refused to produce requested information despite a legal obligation to make such information public.
Faced with stonewalling by these government agencies, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has now filed two lawsuits against both the D.C. and federal governments for violating Freedom of Information Act statutes by their failure to turn over requested documents and communications, and seeking disgorgement of the withheld materials. The lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the D.C. Superior Court.
In addition to its impact on the public’s ability to engage in First Amendment activities and assembly, the loss of this public space will dramatically affect signature local events, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival and other festivals that take place annually and impact the cultural life of the city. . .
Also Jonathan O’Connell reports in the Washington Post:
Free speech advocates are suing the District government and federal agencies over what they say is a “stonewalling” of efforts to determine what access the public will have to the sidewalk, plaza and street outside the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue once Donald Trump opens a $200 million luxury hotel there next month.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney and co-founder of the nonprofit Partnership for Civil Justice Fund says she is concerned that the hotel will illegally interfere with the rights of Americans to assemble or protest on a stretch of what is often referred to as America’s Main Street.
In the spring, organizers of a Japanese culture street festival moved their event to another location after being told by the District that one lane on the 1100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue could not be used once the Trump hotel opened because drivers would need access to the hotel.
After learning of the festival change, Verheyden-Hilliard sought more information. But she said government agencies with oversight of the area, including the D.C. government, the National Park Service, the General Services Administration and the Metropolitan Police Department, would not adequately respond to her requests for information.
“We’ve been trying for more than five months through Freedom of Information Act requests to get the information from the District…as well as the GSA and the Park Service, all of which are stonewalling our requests,” Verheyden-Hilliard said.
On Wednesday afternoon the group brought suits against the agencies seeking information on agreements “that appear to take public space on ‘America’s Main Street’ traditionally open for First Amendment-protected free speech and dissent, and create a ‘buffer zone’ around the Trump Hotel restricting access to exclusive or priority use of the Trump Organization.”
One suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; the other was filed in D.C. Superior Court. . .