On April 15, 2020, The North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law (NCICL) published an open letter to Governor Roy Cooper addressing potential First Amendment violations in the enforcement of his executive orders. In the letter, NCICL’s President and General Counsel, Jeanette Doran, states:

“We understand the seriousness of the situation, not just in terms of COVID-19 itself but also in terms of how government is violating the constitution during the crisis…”

“First Amendment rights aren’t absolute, but neither is government power,” said Doran. “If Governor Cooper or local governments want help, NCICL is more than willing to help them revise or rescind their orders to ensure that constitutional rights are respected.”

The letter comes in the wake of potential First Amendment rights violations in the state.

On Tuesday April 14, protesters met on the corner of Jones and Wilmington streets in Raleigh to protest the governor’s Executive Order 121 banning gatherings of more than 10 people. Police ended the protests claiming, “Protesting is a non-essential activity.” The John Locke Foundation’s Jon Sanders has predicted lawsuits will come out of this situation – citing alleged violations of both the state and federal constitutions. The protesters say they will continue to protest every Tuesday from 11 AM to 3 PM until restrictions are lifted.

In NCICL’s letter, Doran states:

The First Amendment and the North Carolina Constitution protect the people’s right to free speech and to assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances. These rights may be limited if government has a compelling interest and uses narrowly tailored means to achieve that interest. NCICL recently posted an explanation of the test, called “strict scrutiny,” used by courts to decide whether this tough burden has been satisfied when a government limits fundamental rights like the right to free speech.

Read the full letter here. Read the article in Carolina Journal outlining how others are responding to the protest shutdown here.