A Superior Court judge in Wake County Friday struck down some of the new rules for the Legislative Building, where the General Assembly meets, that were enacted last month following dozens of "Moral Monday" protests where more than 900 people were arrested.
Judge Carl Fox said some of the rules adopted last month by the Legislative Services Commission are overly broad and vague, including one that prohibited sounds that hindered someone's ability to have a conversation in a "normal tone of voice" and one that banned signs attached to sticks. It's uncertain when Fox will sign the ruling and whether it will apply to next week's "Moral Monday" rally.
After more than four hours of debate, Fox said he didn't understand the sign rule.
"I have a difficult time seeing how signs are used in a manner to disturb ... it's a sign," he said.
He was also unclear on what constituted a "normal tone of voice."
"Is there any such thing as a normal tone of voice?" he said. "That depends on who's talking."
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the NAACP, which contended the rules hampered protests were meant to quash opposition to GOP policies and criminalize constitutionally protected free speech.
"This is without any restriction or standards to guide who it is whose making the determination as to what conduct distribute or might imminently disturb the General Assembly," said Irving Joyner, an NAACP attorney.
The NAACP also argued that the Legislative Services Commission was an inherently unconstitutional commission and was acting unilaterally, like the executive branch. The commission is made up legislators, but its rules do not follow the typical course of legislation. Once panel members vote on rules, they are adopted.
Attorneys for the state said the new rules allowed more protests and opened up the building more, but mandated that it be done appropriately. Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement he was baffled by the suit and that the rules, which were last updated in 1987, were meant to liberalize and clarify.
Amar Majmundar, a lawyer with the Attorney General's office, said the new rules specifically prohibited crack-downs on protests or speech based on its contents, which removes the threat of selective and partisan enforcement.
"These rules don't deprive free speech right, the rules deprive any protester from disturbing the operation and the function of the General Assembly," said Majmundar. He argued that the NAACP was asking for a virtual free-for-all and said a return to the old rules would restrict the building even more.
"The fact that it's in the General Assembly doesn't mean you can do what you want," he said.
Fox's ruling will be in effect until June 23, the last Monday before legislators hope to adjourn.