ACLU sues South Dakota over pipeline protest legislation

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Dakota has sued the state over a series of new laws critics say violate the First Amendment rights of anti-pipeline activists.

The bills, signed last Wednesday by Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemTrump: If I say I should be on Mt. Rushmore, 'I will end up with such bad publicity' Transportation Department seeks to crack down on pipeline protests: report Trump touts 'BIG FIREWORKS' returning to Mt. Rushmore for July 4 MORE (R), allow the state to sue people or organizations for “riot boosting,” or encouraging protests where violence eventually takes place, even if the defendant does not participate in any rioting.

Noem explicitly tied the bill to the forthcoming construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, calling it “a legislative solution to ensure the safety and efficiency of pipeline construction in South Dakota.” On Friday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE signed a presidential permit to jump-start construction of the pipeline and circumvent previous court orders halting its development.

The so-called “Pipeline Package” could result in criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison and $50,000 in fines, according to the ACLU of South Dakota. In its lawsuit, the ACLU claims the laws violate the First and Fourteenth Amendment, and that they both restrict protected speech and are overly vague as to what speech or conduct could result in criminal and civil penalties.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club, NDN Collective, Dakota Rural Action and the Indigenous Environmental Network as well as two individuals associated with NDN Collective and the IEN, respectively.

“By equating peaceful organization and support of protest with ‘riot boosting’ and incitement to riot, the plaintiffs’ ability to speak out against the Keystone XL Pipeline is stifled,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The Riot Boosting Act unconstitutionally targets protected speech, which cannot be properly characterized as incitement to violence or speech incident to criminal conduct, and threatens liability on speakers regardless of their intent or likelihood that violence will occur.”

Noem's office defended the bill in a statement.

"The governor stands behind her pipeline legislation, which does not place restrictions on peaceful protest or peaceful assembly," Kristin Wileman, Noem's press secretary, told The Hill. "Governor Noem remains committed to upholding these laws as a means to protect our people, our counties, our environment, and our state."