Pasadena Court Revives Free Speech Lawsuit Over Photography Ban at U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings

Published : Thursday, August 16, 2018 | 5:39 AM

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena has revived a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government’s policy that bars anyone from taking photos and video or shooting film at U.S.-Mexico ports of entry without advanced permission, a Reuters report Wednesday said.

The lawsuit was filed by activists Ray Askins and Christian Ramirez in 2012, alleging that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policy was in violation of First Amendment rights.

A San Diego district judge had dismissed the lawsuit twice, saying the policy was the least restrictive way to protect government interests.

On Tuesday, the Pasadena-based appeals court ruled 3-0 that the lower court judge acted too hastily when it dismissed the claims. It said that an amended complaint filed in 2015 by the American Civil Liberties Union on Askins’ and Ramirez’s behalf had free speech claims that should be heard in court.

The ruling sends the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Ramirez was detained in June 2010 near the San Ysidro port of entry when he took photos of U.S. border officials inspecting female travelers with his cellphone. The officials took his cellphone and deleted all of the images he had taken near the area, according to the complaint.

Askins, an environmental activist, sought permission to take photos in April 2012 at the Calexico port of entry but was denied, court documents showed. He did take photos from a distance but border officials handcuffed him and confiscated his camera, deleting the photos he took before releasing him.

The Ninth Circuit appeals court said the lower court judge should be faulted for deciding to dismiss the case simply by citing the government’s general interest in protecting the nation’s sovereignty and its interest in border security.

“It is the government’s burden to prove that these specific restrictions are the least restrictive means available to further its compelling interest,” Circuit Judge Jay Bybee wrote in the ruling. “They cannot do so through general assertions of national security, particularly where plaintiffs have alleged that CBP is restricting First Amendment activities in traditional public fora such as streets and sidewalks.”


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