A Judge Has Blocked The 'Anti-Riot' Law Passed In Florida

The constitution prevent Congress from abridging the right to peaceably assemble:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Florida has enacted an "anti-riot" act and is described as:

A public gathering of three or more people can be classified as a “riot” under the law, and anyone who “willingly” participates in such a gathering can be charged with a third-degree felony. Plus, participants in rallies that turn violent can be also be charged with a third-degree felony even if they had no involvement with the violence. Most jarring of all, the law grants civil immunity to drivers who ram into protesting crowds and even injure or kill participants, if they claim the protests made them concerned for their own well-being in the moment.

Source: https://slate.com/business/2021/04/drivers-hit-protesters-laws-florida-oklahoma-republicans.html

If the right to assembly may not be abridged by congress, does that imply states may not craft anti-assembly legislation?


2 Answers 2


The restrictions of the First Amendment have been made applicable to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. For the right to assemble, this was recognized in De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353 (1937).

But note that the right only protects peaceable assembly. When it is alleged that improper violence or other properly unlawful action has occurred, the state may make that criminal, and indeed laws against rioting have existed throughout the history of the US. Whether a law is criminalizing peaceful assembly or prohibiting unlawful violence is a question that depends on th wording of the law, and the way it is applied

In the De Jonge opinion the Court wrote:

The broad reach of the statute as thus applied is plain. While defendant was a member of the Communist Party, that membership was not necessary to conviction on such a charge. A like fate might have attended any speaker, although not a member, who "assisted in the conduct" of the meeting. However innocuous the object of the meeting, however lawful the subjects and tenor of the addresses, however reasonable and timely the discussion, all those assisting in the conduct of the meeting would be subject to imprisonment as felons if the meeting were held by the Communist Party.


While the States are entitled to protect themselves from the abuse of the privileges of our institutions through an attempted substitution of force and violence in the place of peaceful political action in order to effect revolutionary changes in government, none of our decisions goes to the length of sustaining such a curtailment of the right of free speech and assembly as the Oregon statute demands in its present application. In Gitlow v. New York, 268 U. S. 652, under the New York statute defining criminal anarchy, the defendant was found to be responsible for a "manifesto" advocating the overthrow of the government by violence and unlawful means. Id. pp. 268 U. S. 656, 268 U. S. 662, 268 U. S. 663. In Whitney v. California, 274 U. S. 357, under the California statute relating to criminal syndicalism, the defendant was found guilty of willfully and deliberately assisting in the forming of an organization for the purpose of carrying on a revolutionary class struggle by criminal methods ...

Freedom of speech and of the press are fundamental rights which are safeguarded by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. Gitlow v. New York, supra, p. 268 U. S. 666; Stromberg v. California, supra, p. 283 U. S. 368; Near v. Minnesota, 283 U. S. 697, 283 U. S. 707; Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U. S. 233, 297 U. S. 243, 297 U. S. 244. The right of peaceable assembly is a right cognate to those of free speech and free press, and is equally fundamental. As this Court said in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 92 U. S. 552:

implies a right on the part of its citizens to meet peaceably for consultation in respect to public affairs and to petition for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment of the Federal Constitution expressly guarantees that right against abridgment by Congress. But explicit mention there does not argue exclusion elsewhere. For the right is one that cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all civil and political institutions -- principles which the Fourteenth Amendment embodies in the general terms of its due process clause. Hebert v. Louisiana, 272 U. S. 312, 272 U. S. 316; Powell v. Alabama, 287 U. S. 45, 287 U. S. 67; Grosjean v. American Press Co., supra.


The right to assembly may not be abridged by congress, and therefore states may not craft anti-assembly legislation. Florida did not, instead, Section 15. Section 870.01 of HB1 says

(2) A person commits a riot if he or she willfully participates in a violent public disturbance involving an assembly of three or more persons, acting with a common intent to assist each other in violent and disorderly conduct, resulting in: (a) Injury to another person; (b) Damage to property; or (c) Imminent danger of injury to another person or damage to property.

The Senate version is a more accurate representation of the law passed by Florida than the Slate version. As noted in the judge's ruling, the statute does not define "riot" so

the Florida Supreme Court restricted the offense of rioting to one where “three or more persons acted with a common intent to mutually assist each other in a violent manner to the terror of the people and a breach of the peace”

Now they have a definition, cited above. Plaintiffs in this case argue that this is not clear enough, claiming it is unclear

whether a person must share a common intent with three or more persons to engage in violent and disorderly conduct; or (2) whether it merely requires a person to willfully participate in a violent public disturbance that includes a discrete assembly of three or more persons who are assisting each other in violent and disorderly conduct

The law does not clearly limit the constitutionally protected right to peaceable assembly, but the argument is that it is unclear whether one riots when one is simply present at an event with property damage etc. Thus the law is vague.

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