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 peaceful assembly. For information about our methodology, click here.

40 states have
considered
135 bills
25 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
21 pending 87 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Oct. 16, 2020 (New York), Oct. 7, 2020 (Michigan), Aug. 30, 2020 (US Federal)
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US Federal

Executive Order 13809: Giving riot gear and other military equipment to local police

The “Presidential Executive Order on Restoring State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement's Access to Life-Saving Equipment and Resources” reinstates a program that transfers surplus military equipment to police departments across the country. President Obama had scaled back the 1990s-era program in 2015, following the heavily armed police response to protests against the killing of black men in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere. With Executive Order 13809, President Trump restored the program, and police departments will again receive free weaponized vehicles, certain large-caliber ammunition, riot gear, and other military equipment – which may once again be used when responding to protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 28 Aug 2017; Issued 28 Aug 2017

Issue(s): police response

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US Federal

HR 8117: Stripping Pandemic Aid from Individuals Convicted of “Protest-Related” Federal Crimes

Would withdraw COVID-19 unemployment benefits from and impose new costs on anyone convicted of a federal offense “related to the individual’s conduct at and during a protest.” Such a person would be ineligible for federal unemployment aid under the CARES Act (15 U.S.C. 9023) “or any other Federal supplemental unemployment compensation during the COVID–19 public health emergency.” If federal agents were involved in policing the protest at issue, the person who was convicted of a related federal offense would also have to pay the cost of the agents’ policing activity, “as determined by the court.” Federal offenses include both violations of federal law, and violations of state law that occur on federal property. As such, the bill’s withdrawal of benefits and imposition of new costs could apply to, e.g., a peaceful protester convicted of misdemeanor trespass for refusing to leave a demonstration on the steps of a federal courthouse or a sit-in at a congressional office. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 28 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): security costs

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US Federal

S 4424: Withhold Federal Funding for Failure to Prosecute Destructive Protest Activities

Would empower the U.S. Attorney General to withhold up to 10% of select federal funding from a state prosecutor's office, district attorney's office, or state attorney general office, if the U.S. Attorney General determines that the office has "abused the use of prosecutorial discretion by failing to prosecute crimes stemming from riots or other violent or destructive protest activities." Many riot statutes in the U.S. are broadly worded and can encompass non-violent protest activity. In the past, peaceful protesters have been prosecuted under these statutes. This bill could encourage an aggressive interpretation of riot statutes as well as other laws that could be used against peaceful demonstrators. On September 17, 2020, HR 8301 was introduced in the House of Representatives, which has nearly identical language to S 4424. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 4 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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US Federal

S 4266: Withhold Federal Funding for Failure to Either Prosecute or Properly Police a Riot

Would empower the U.S. Attorney General to withhold select federal funding if the Attorney General determines that a state or local government has a "custom or policy" of not prosecuting an individual engaged in unlawful activity as part of a riot or if they decline to prosecute because the "unlawful activity is related to or associated with expression of speech protected by the First Amendment". The U.S. Attorney General can also withhold select federal funding if a senior official, governing body, or policy prohibits law enforcement from taking action that would prevent or mitigate physical injury or property depredation related to a riot. The U.S. Attorney General could withhold up to 25% of select federal funding or twice the monetary value of property damaged or physical injury caused by the failure of the state or local government to take "reasonable steps" to protect against damage and injury. The bill also would create liability for "a person with the lawful authority to direct a law enforcement agency" to prohibit law enforcement from taking action that would prevent or materially mitigate significant injury or property destruction related to a riot. The bill defines riot using the broad federal definition of riot. Such broadly worded riot provisions have been used to prosecute peaceful protesters in the past. This bill may pressure law enforcement to police assemblies aggressively to ensure that their policing practices are not second guessed by the federal government resulting in loss of funding or because doing otherwise might open them up to civil litigation. The bill could also lead to the aggressive interpretation of riot statutes against peaceful protesters by prosecutors so as not to risk losing federal funding. A companion bill HR 7786 has been introduced in the House. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jul 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, police response, riot

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US Federal

DOT Legislative Proposal: New federal criminal penalties for protests near pipelines

In its proposed congressional reauthorization of pipeline safety programs, the Department of Transportation included expanded criminal penalties that could be applied to protests near gas and oil pipelines. The proposal would newly criminalize under federal law "vandalizing, tampering with, impeding the operation of, disrupting the operation of, or inhibiting the operation of" a pipeline or a pipeline construction site. The offense would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and/or a steep fine: up to $250,000 for an individual, or $500,000 for an organization. Any "attempt" or "conspiracy" to commit the offense would likewise be subject to a 20-year prison sentence. Accordingly, individuals as well as organizations that participate in a protest or engage in the planning of a protest deemed to "inhibit" a pipeline construction site could face lengthy prison sentences and/or steep fines. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Jun 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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US Federal

HR 6054: Harsh penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

The “Unmask Antifa Act of 2018” would make it a federal crime, subject to a lengthy prison sentence, to wear a mask or other disguise while protesting in a “threatening” or “intimidating” way. Under the act, anyone who “injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates any person” while “in disguise, including while wearing a mask” could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison as well as fined. The bill explicitly exempts police and other law enforcement agents, stating that “nothing in this section shall be construed so as to deter any law enforcement officer from lawfully carrying out the duties of his office.” The name of the bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Daniel Donovan and supported by Reps. Peter King, Ted Budd, and Paul Gosar, refers to the leftist anti-Fascist movement, some members of which have worn masks during protests. The bill expired with the close of the 115th Congress on January 3, 2019. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 8 Jun 2018.

Issue(s): face coverings

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