This is interesting. Apparently, back in February, the Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance declaring what people there are calling a “clean zone” around Target Field and other areas downtown around the time of the All-Star Game. The ordinance literally gives Major League Baseball final approval over all manner of permitting that is normally associated with protests, street fairs, assemblies and the like. Here’s the text:
Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by The City Council of The City of Minneapolis:
That no temporary permit or license shall be approved or granted by the City Council which would permit the sale or free distribution of merchandise, peddling, transient merchant activities, product sampling, temporary food or beverage services, temporary beverage alcohol premise expansions, block events, parades, races, or permit the use of temporary structures, tents, signs, banners, mobile billboard vehicles, broadcast vehicles, amplified sound permits, temporary light displays, inflatable displays, or permit temporary entertainment venues to be operated during the time period of July 5, 2014 through July 20, 2014 on public or private property within the following geographical areas surrounding Target Field or other event venues without additional approval of Major League Baseball.
So, if you want to hold a political rally or a protest in the specified area between July 5 and 20, and if you plan to use a megaphone to do it — or to serve food or erect banners or anything like it — it’s not enough to get a permit from City Council. MLB has to approve it too.
This has fomented a lawsuit from the ACLU against the city, claiming that its ceding of such approval to a for-profit corporation is a violation of the First Amendment:
“All we’re saying is you can’t give away your permit process to a for-profit company,” ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson tells us. “It belongs in the hands of elected officials and they can’t give it away. This is a quintessential government role and the First Amendment doesn’t give private companies the power to decide who can assemble, where they can assemble, and what they can say.”
I have no idea if this is common practice. Obviously MLB does a lot of stuff in cities in which it holds the All-Star Game. Last year in New York they shut down streets and had red carpet events and parades on Chevy Silverados and the like. If you’re doing that and if you’re pumping a large amount of money into the city I presume you want some assurances from the city that your events aren’t going to be upstaged or interfered with in an unreasonable manner.
But to actually give MLB veto rights over city permitting of such assemblies or events? Including for a period stretching several days past the All-Star Game? Agreeing to those kinds of restrictions and letting a private company decide what citizens can do as far as public assembly and protest seems a bit much.
UPDATE: The City Council has already amended the “clean zone” ordinance. In fact, they did it today:
The original language stated that no temporary licenses or permits could be approved in designated areas of the city “without additional approval of Major League Baseball.” The new language, which passed unanimously Friday, says the city will not grant such permits or licenses “without conferring with Major League Baseball.”
What’s more, I just spoke with someone familiar with “clean zones” surrounding sporting and entertainment events. It is, I am told, “extremely common practice,” around events like the Super Bowl, the All-Star Game, and similar things. The rationale for them is not about protests, though: it’s about protecting league/event sponsors from guerrilla marketing. For example, if Chevy is a huge sponsor of the All-Star Game, no one wants Ford to hang a giant banner from an office building outside the ballpark. Whether you want your city to be in the business of protecting these interests or not is up to you, but that’s what the provision is there for.
In any event, Major League Baseball doesn’t have veto power anymore. And my guess is that they didn’t want it to begin with, even if the city drafted the ordinance in a way that gave it to them. The league has made an investment and wanted the city to take its interests into account. Now it seems they’ve ratcheted it back to that level.
So I guess now it’s the ACLU’s move.