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Massive Protests in Portland Continue After Judge Denies State Request for Restraining Order Against Federal Agencies

Tear gas from w:BORTAC and fires at w:Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse during the 2020 w:George Floyd protests in Portland, Oregon. Date: 22 July 2020 Source: Own work Author: Tedder

“If the state of Oregon does not have standing to prevent this unconstitutional conduct by unidentified federal agents running roughshod over her citizens, who does?”

(By: Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams) After a U.S. district judge on Friday denied the Oregon attorney general’s request for a temporary restraining order against federal agencies, officers deployed to Portland by President Donald Trump dispensed tear gas and fired impact munitions as the thousands of protesters gathered in the city until early Saturday for ongoing demonstrations against police brutality.

Friday night featured one of the largest crowds since the Portland protests kicked off in late May, with at least 4,000 people in the streets, according to The Oregonian.

The night started with a rally on the steps of the downtown jail next to the federal courthouse on Southwest Third Avenue. A parade of vehicles, many adorned with Black Lives Matter decorations, circled around the area. The drivers honked the car horns in rhythm with the crowd’s “Black Lives Matter” chant.

The large crowd expanded after 9 p.m. when a march from the waterfront arrived. Many marchers wore distinct colors tied to specific professions or community groups. Social workers wore green. Dining industry workers wore chef coats. Healthcare workers wore blue. Groups of parents, who started the collective attire trend nearly a week ago, wore yellow and orange.

Participants in the city’s Friday night events included members of the groups Healthcare Workers Protest, Teachers Against Tyrants, Lawyers for Black Lives, the “Wall of Moms,” and a new “Wall of Vets.” Backed by the beat of drums, the demonstrators chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “Feds go home.”

Early Saturday, The Oregonian reported, fireworks were set off from a crowd near the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, “the site of repeated overnight confrontations between federal officers embedded inside and demonstrators gathered outside.”

In recent days, as President Donald Trump has threatened to deploy federal agents to other major U.S. cities and actually sent a tactical team to Seattle, the conduct of the president’s “secret police” in Portland has drawn intense condemnation on a national scale and provoked multiple lawsuits.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman weighed in on one of those cases late Friday, denying Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protection Service and their agents.

In response to reports of unidentified federal agents in unmarked vehicles snatching people off the streets of Portland, the state’s suit asked the judge to force the federal officers to identify themselves and their agencies before arresting or detaining anyone in the city, and to prohibit detentions or arrests without a warrant or probable cause.

Mosman wrote in a 14-page ruling (pdf) that although the suit “involves allegations of harm done to protesters by law enforcement, no protester is a plaintiff here,” and “it is not seeking redress for any harm that has been done to protesters. Instead, it seeks an injunction against future conduct, which is also an extraordinary form of relief.”

The judge ultimately determined that the state failed to show that it has standing to bring the case and denied the TRO request.

According to The Associated Press:

Legal experts who reviewed the case before the decision warned that the judge could reject it on those grounds. A lawsuit from a person accusing federal agents of violating their rights to free speech or against unconstitutional search and seizure would have a much higher chance of success, Michael Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Cornell University, said ahead of the ruling.

“The federal government acted in violation of those individuals’ rights and probably acted in violation of the Constitution in the sense of exercising powers that are reserved to the states, but just because the federal government acts in ways that overstep its authority doesn’t mean the state has an injury,” he said.

Rosenblum responded in a statement Friday that expressed her disappointment with the decision but also noted that “in last Wednesday’s two-hour hearing, the judge expressed concern with the legality of the federal law enforcement tactics we are seeking to stop.”

“While today the court declined to issue an immediate order putting a stop to those tactics, we are, nevertheless, hopeful these abuses will stop and no other Oregonians will be subject to them or to the chilling effect they have on the right to engage in peaceful protest,” Rosenblum said.

The attorney general added that while she respects Mosman, “I would ask this question: If the state of Oregon does not have standing to prevent this unconstitutional conduct by unidentified federal agents running roughshod over her citizens, who does?”

“Individuals mistreated by these federal agents can sue for damages, but they can’t get a judge to restrain this unlawful conduct more generally,” she said. “Today’s ruling suggests that there may be no recourse on behalf of our state, and if so that is extremely troubling.”

The ACLU, which was not part of the state case but is involved in multiple other legal challenges related to the conditions in Portland, also expressed disappointment with Mosman’s denial.

“While the decision in the state’s lawsuit is disappointing, federal agents should not for a minute think their unconstitutional actions will go unanswered,” said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. “The ACLU will be in court again to hold federal agents accountable for their unconstitutional attacks on the right to protest.”

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