US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL’s US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since November 2016 that restrict the right to protest. For information about our methodology, click here.

31 states have
considered
64 bills
9 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
8 pending 45 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Oct. 29, 2018 (Pennsylvania), Aug. 22, 2018 (Virginia), Jul. 12, 2018 (US Federal)
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Virginia

Executive Order No. 15: State of emergency in preparation for Charlottesville anniversary

The order declared a temporary state of emergency in Virginia and deployed military force in order to prepare for “events, rallies, and protests” planned in Charlottesville on the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally. The state of emergency order activated the Virginia National Guard and directed it to assist state police in carrying out “all acts necessary” in order “to ensure crowd control, direct traffic, prevent looting, and perform… other law enforcement functions.” The order endowed Army and Air National Guard personnel with the power to arrest individuals in order to enforce the law—including, specifically, “all violations of Section 18.2, Chapter 9, Articles 1 and 2 of the Code of Virginia (Crimes Against Peace and Order; Riot and Unlawful Assembly; Disorderly Conduct).” The order further provided that neither state police, National Guard personnel, nor any other emergency service providers could be held liable for any death or personal injury “proximately caused by the circumstances of this emergency.” Deployment of militarized or otherwise disproportionate force in response to protests—particularly if coupled with immunity for injuries those forces commit—is likely to chill constitutionally-protected protest activity. Governor Ralph Northam signed the order on August 8, 2018, and declared the state of emergency to be in effect until September 12, 2018. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 8 Aug 2018.

Issue(s): police response, state of emergency

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Virginia

Executive Order No. 67: Temporary ban on protests near General Lee monument

Temporarily bans protests at the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. The order directs a suspension of all permits for demonstrations, processions, picketing, and “all other like forms of conduct,” as well as the display of any flags, banners, or other “demonstratives.” The order cites the violence that erupted during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, and notes that activities surrounding Confederate monuments in Virginia including the Lee Monument “raise substantial public safety concerns.” The order mandates Virginia’s Department of General Services to issue regulations to govern any public use of the Lee Monument by November 18, 2017, and halts the issuance of demonstration permits until such regulations are issued. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 18 Aug 2017; Effective until 18 Nov 2017

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Virginia

Executive Order No. 66: State of emergency due to protests in Charlottesville

Declares a temporary state of emergency in Virginia “due to civil unrest leading up to, resulting from, and subsequent to the Unite the Right rally and counter-protests in the City of Charlottesville.” Among other things, the state of emergency activated the Virginia National Guard to assist in responding to the violence associated with the white nationalist demonstrations, and allowed state agencies to take extraordinary measures to deal with the emergency. Governor Terry McAuliffe signed the order on August 12, 2017, and declared the state of emergency to be in effect for five days, until August 17. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 12 Aug 2017; Effective until 17 Aug 2017

Issue(s): state of emergency

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Virginia

HB 1601: Banning protests by members of domestic terrorist groups

Would newly define and designate “domestic terrorist organizations,” and bar their members from assembling in groups of three or more. The bill broadly defines an “act of domestic terrorism,” in part echoing the state’s definition of a hate crime. The bill would provide for state authorities to designate as a "domestic terrorist organization" an identifiable group that aims to commit an act of domestic terrorism or whose members individually or collectively have attempted to commit an act of domestic terrorism. According to the bill, members of a designated domestic terrorist organization are prohibited from assembling in groups of three or more persons. The bill provides that such an assembly is unlawful, and any individual who participates in such an “unlawful assembly” (whether a member or not) could be charged with a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If an individual carries a firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon while participating in such an “unlawful assembly” of domestic terrorist group members, they are subject to a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which helped draft the bill, indicated that it was prompted by the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on August 12. Critics of the bill have noted that the broad language of the bill could allow authorities to target minority communities who have “unpopular beliefs.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 19 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): terrorism

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Virginia

HB 1791: Expanded definition of “incitement to riot”

Would have expanded the definition of “incitement to riot” and heightened penalties for encouraging others to produce a riot against a law-enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel. Under the bill, encouraging others to engage in a peaceful protest that results in acts of force or violence against such officers or personnel is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Jan 2017; Approved by House 26 Jan 2017; Approved by Senate 13 Feb 2017; Vetoed by Governor McAuliffe 28 April 2017

Issue(s): riot

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Virginia

SB 1055: Heightened penalties for participation in an “unlawful assembly”

Would have broadened the scope of the state’s anti-protesting laws. The bill would increase penalties for people who engage in an “unlawful assembly” after “having been lawfully warned to disperse,” elevating the act from a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries only a maximum $500 fine, to a Class 1 misdemeanor, which could be subject to up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 6 Jan 2017; Failed in Senate on 23 Jan 2017

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For more information about the Tracker, contact Elly Page at EPage@icnl.org.