Minnesota Supreme Court to hear Little Falls woman's First Amendment case
Little Falls resident Robin Hensel has taken her first amendment case all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea filed an order Tuesday on Hensel's petition. The supreme court agreed to revie...
Little Falls resident Robin Hensel has taken her first amendment case all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea filed an order Tuesday on Hensel's petition. The supreme court agreed to review two issues in Hensel's case, which relates to determining the constitutionality of a provision of the disorderly conduct statute.
Hensel petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court after she lost her appeal in January with the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Hensel's case began when she was convicted of disorderly conduct for disturbing a Little Falls City Council meeting in June of 2013. Hensel said she showed up with signs, including one sign on her head, the American flag and dressed in period clothing representing the time before the Civil War. Hensel refused to sit in the public gallery at the meeting. She sat in the front row of the public viewing area and there were no tables or chairs between the council dais and the seating area. Hensel was asked to move her chair by authorities several times, but she refused.
A jury convicted Hensel in December of 2014 after a judge refused to allow the First Amendment issues to be brought up as a defense. The appeals document states, "the district court reasoned that the statute was overbroad in that it reached speech and expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment, but that it could be narrowly construed to reach only conduct."
The appeals court of three judges ruled in favor of Morrison County District Court and stated the district court did not err by denying Hensel's requested jury instructions, and the evidence supports Hensel's conviction.
Hensel filed a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court on Feb. 24 and Attorney Paul Reuvers of Iverson Reuvers Condon in Bloomington, who represents Morrison County District Court in the case, responded to the petition March 16.
In the Minnesota Supreme Court court order, Gildea stated the counsel would be notified at a later date for the time of the argument.
"We are not surprised by the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court to review this case, as the court has not addressed the constitutionality of the statute previously," Reuvers stated in an email response. "Nonetheless, we believe the district court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals applied the proper legal framework, which should be affirmed by the court."
Hensel's attorney Kevin Riach of Fredrikson and Byron in Minneapolis said, "We are obviously gratified that the Minnesota Supreme Court has agreed to take this case and we are looking forward to making our case to the court.
"We think this is an issue of statewide concern because it relates to how people participate in our democracy."
In Hensel's petition, it states her case should be reviewed for several reasons, which include the constitutionality of the disorderly conduct statute. It further states, "It involves important question of public interest: the extent to which constitutional guarantees of free speech protect citizen engagement and activism at government meetings.
"... resolution of the questions in this appeal is of statewide impact not only for those politically active citizens seeking to express themselves at government meeting, but also for the media and other politically-neutral actors who nonetheless have a central role at such meetings."
Hensel's petition went on to state, "This case presents issues that concern core First Amendment rights to dissent and express dissatisfaction with elected officials, as well as to participate in or monitor local government meetings."
In the state's petition, it states, "the case presents a straight-forward analysis of First Amendment jurisprudence and the court of appeals correctly applied established precedent to the facts. Contrary to the petitioner's argument, nothing in the court of appeals' opinion alters existing precedent or creates an inconsistent application of the law."
The state's response continued to state the disorderly conduct statute "is not unconstitutionally vague, the court of appeals highlighted the statute's use of 'disturb' has a plain, commonly understood ordinary meaning."
The state's response petition concluded by saying the law is clear and there was no disagreement among the lower courts.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.