Federal judge halts enforcement of anti-pipeline protest law in South Dakota

A new law by South Dakota aimed against Keystone XL pipeline protesters has been put on hold by a Federal Judge.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol granted a preliminary injunction this week in a lawsuit filed against Gov. Kristi Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union contends the state’s riot laws which allow South Dakota to sue so-called “riot boosters” were unconstitutional.

The judge also denied the state’s request to certify the question to the South Dakota Supreme Court and he granted Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom’s motion to dismiss the case against him, leaving Noem and Ravnsborg as the sole defendants.

The state has an interest in criminalizing participation in a riot, but the state’s laws defining a riot “go far beyond that appropriate interest and … do impinge upon protected speech and other expressive activity as well as the right of association,” Piersol wrote in his order.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota filed the lawsuit on behalf of four groups and two individuals. ACLU attorney Stephen Pevar said they’re “thrilled” by Piersol’s injunction.

“What it means for everybody is that they can speak their minds about the pipeline without fear of going to prison,” Pevar said. “This has never been about breaking the law. Our clients simply want to engage in peaceful protest, but under these statutes, they can’t do that without fear of punishment. The statutes just go too far.”