Florida Supreme Court hears arguments on protest law amid allegations of targeting Black activists

James Tysse at the Florida Supreme Court, 10/4/23 // Credit: Florida Supreme Court Youtube


On Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to a 2021 law that enhanced penalties and created new crimes during protests that turn violent.

Groups including the Dream Defenders and NAACP argue that the law was enacted seemingly in response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

The parties agree that the Court should read HB 1 not to criminalize the mere act of attending a protest where others behave violently.

But according to today’s trial, they have very different views on how that should happen.

Nicholas J.P. Meros represents Governor Ron DeSantis.

“They’re understandably concerned that their members might be at a protest that either is violent or becomes violent, but they’re not participating in that violence, and they’re worried that they can be swept under that, which is understandable. But the ‘willfully participating’ aspect does a lot of that work. It shows not only do they have to be joining in the protest, but they have to know that there’s violence in the protest, and they have to be willfully and intentionally joining in that violence.”

But, the groups challenging the state over the law argue that it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The ACLU argues that the law targets Black protestors and their allies who demand racial justice and has already slowed protest activity among Black organizers in Florida.

James Tysse represents the plaintiffs.

“I try to provide context exactly for why we’re here in the first place. This was a good-faith concern on the part of our clients. I think my friend on the other side said it’s understandable, for my clients to have these concerns”

The case is still open.

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