Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Say What? “Price tag on the First Amendment”

December 6, 2011 by Holly Munson


Photo via ra_hurd/Flickr

Editor's Note:  For the past 200-plus years, We the People have had a lot to say about the Constitution. In each installment of “Say What?” we offer a quick quote—be it wise, quirky, or otherwise memorablefrom past or present conversation related to our favorite founding document. 




“I'm a little skeptical about charging people to express their First Amendment opinion. You can't really put a price tag on the First Amendment.”

Who said it

Edward Fallone, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School, in a comment to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel regarding a new policy in Wisconsin that charges permit applicants for assembling at the Capitol and other state buildings.

The story

Last week Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker introduced a new policy that includes requirements of permits and fees for groups gathering at various state buildings. Here are some of the most discussed aspects of the policy:

  • Groups of four or more people must obtain permits at least 72 hours in advance. The policy does allow spontaneous gatherings "in response to a triggering event that has occurred within the preceding calendar week."
  • Demonstrators could be charged for the costs of excess police staffing, which could include charges of $50 per police officer per hour. The police could require an advance payment as a requirement for getting a permit and could also require liability insurance.
  • Costs for cleanup or repairs after a demonstration could be charged to organizers.

The Walker administration presented the policy as a clarification of existing state law that requires demonstrators to apply for a permit and says that they could be "liable to the state . . . for any expense arising out of any such use and for such sum as the managing authority may charge for such use." However, many legal experts and citizens have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the policy, arguing that the fees and other requirements in the new policy violate the freedoms of speech and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Holly Munson works in Public Programs at the National Constitution Center.

Sign up for our email newsletter