In this Nov. 15 photo, inaugural preparations continue on the West Front of Capitol Hill in Washington, looking at the National Mall and Washington Monument. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In this Nov. 15 photo, inaugural preparations continue on the West Front of Capitol Hill in Washington, looking at the National Mall and Washington Monument. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sorting out permits for inaugeration day protesters

By Perry Stein

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The question of where the Women’s March on Washington will be permitted to hold what they expect to be a massive demonstration the day after inauguration has drawn big — and sometimes misleading — headlines this past week. Did President-elect Donald Trump’s team set out to block the protests from occurring? (No.) Is the National Park Service preventing demonstrators from obtaining their permits? (Not exactly.) Are people’s First Amendment rights being blocked? (That remains to be seen.)

What is true is that the unusually large number of groups hoping to demonstrate this year has revealed a permitting process steeped in bureaucracy that hasn’t made it easy for groups to obtain the necessary permits on or around Inauguration Day. Here is a detailed breakdown of how First Amendment permits are doled out for Inauguration Day, and what this means for would-be demonstrators.

Who is responsible for permitting?

On federal land the job falls to the National Park Service, the agency that manages U.S. national parks and many of the national monuments. The agency has jurisdiction over the National Mall, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial. It also oversees smaller parks in the District of Columbia such as Lafayette Square and Dupont Circle.

Who needs to apply for permits?

The National Park Service asks for people gathering or demonstrating with groups of 25 or more to apply for a First Amendment permit. This allows the agency to ensure that multiple groups are not trying to use the same space at once, and to have an idea of how many people to expect. Permits also allow the gathering groups to set up stages, microphones and porta-potties beforehand — something that would be necessary for a big demonstration like the Women’s March on Washington.

Do you need a permit to protest?

Not necessarily, though the park agency does ask for people to secure one. Everyone has the right to be on this public land. If people show up without permits, Sgt. Anna Rose, a spokeswoman for the Park Police, said police wouldn’t automatically kick people out. “It would depend on what else was going on at the time,” Rose wrote in an email. “We pride ourselves on facilitating everyone’s right to free speech and every effort is made to allow visitors to exercise that right.”

How are permits distributed?

The permits are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and the agency says it does not consider the politics of the applicant in the permitting process. According to the National Park Service, if you are the first to apply for a permit, then you will be the first to receive it.

Why does the Trump inaugural committee have first dibs for permits on the Lincoln Memorial and much of the National Mall for Inauguration Day?

Here’s where it gets more complicated —and more controversial. The Park Service, as a matter of standard practice, applies on behalf of the Presidential Inaugural Committee for the sweeping permits a year in advance, according to Mike Litterst, a Park Service spokesman. That is done as a courtesy to the incoming president and gives the committee, which is formally selected only after an election, its choice of space as it begins planning festivities. As it starts to determine its plans — and which land it will and won’t need — the expectation is that the committee would rescind some of the permit applications so the public can use them.

Does this happen every inauguration?

Yes, but it’s been more problematic and controversial this time around because there is an usually large number of groups applying for First Amendment permits. There are about 20 this time, and officials said they typically see around four.

Could the inaugural committee hold onto all of the permits, preventing any one else from obtaining one for around inauguration?

Yes, that is a plausible scenario. But, as of now, Litterst of the National Park Service said it is not abnormal for an inaugural committee to still be holding on to all of the permits in mid-December.

How many permits have been issued so far?

Technically, none. The National Park Service says it hasn’t yet issued any permits, though the Presidential Inaugural Committee is at the top of the line to receive them.

Has Trump’s inaugural committee said if it would rescind any of the permit applications?

It has not. Alex Stroman, a spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee said in an interview Friday that group is still figuring out its plans for inauguration and has not yet made any decisions about which pieces of land it will use. “We’re moving as quickly as possible,” he said.

What does this mean for the Women’s March on Washington?

The Women’s March on Washington — what will likely be the biggest inauguration demonstration — had originally hoped to march the day after inauguration in front of the Lincoln Memorial and around the National Mall. The organizers had not heard back on their permits and said they have secured a new starting location. They have now applied for permits to begin their march on Independence Avenue and Third Street SW — a location that is under jurisdiction of local District of Columbia police.

What other demonstrators who applied for permits include both left-leaning and pro-Trump groups?

The other groups still wishing to demonstrate on federal park property need to wait until the inaugural committee figures out its plans before they obtain their permits. The National Park Service says it will be working with groups to find alternative locations if their first choice spot isn’t available. In the meantime. it’s up to the groups to decide how they want their would-be participants to proceed.

If the Women’s March on Washington is the day after inauguration, why would it be impacted by the land that the inauguration committee decides to use?

Most of the applications call for the permits to be valid for the weeks before and after inauguration. This allows time for the event organizers to set up for the ceremonies beforehand, and clean up afterward.

Does the inaugural committee have a deadline by which it needs to figure out what lands it wants or doesn’t want to use?


So what happens?

We have to wait and see…

Talk to us

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