The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge
Plaintiffs have filed a Motion for A Protective Order to preclude inquiry by the Defendants, primarily the government, about six specific subject matter areas which they allege are constitutionally privileged political and/or associational activity. Upon consideration of the Motion, the Defendants' Response, and Plaintiffs' Reply, the Court concludes that the Motion should be granted.
Plaintiffs, several political action organizations and individuals, are challenging the actions of the federal government and the Presidential Inaugural Committee ("PIC") on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2001, which they allege violated their constitutional rights to express their political views and demonstrate at the particular portion of Freedom Plaza for which they were given a demonstration permit by the National Park Service. The case will involve very substantial discovery and the resolution of extremely important First Amendment issues.
To date, it has been the Court's perception--based on the papers which have been submitted--that there has been a high level of cooperation and civility amongst the parties. This is noted with approval and appreciation. The Court expects it to continue, even as counsel become more deeply involved in the stresses of high-profile litigation. *fn1
Plaintiffs identify six categories of defense discovery requests to which they object. Plaintiffs assert that five of these categories concern subject matter that is totally irrelevant to this lawsuit. More importantly, Plaintiffs also argue that disclosure of the information sought by these requests will subject individuals "to probable harassment and reprisal, and will have a chilling effect on the willingness of persons to engage in the democratic process through mass protest or concerted political action." Pls.' Mot. for Prot. Order at 2. As to the sixth category, Plaintiffs acknowledge that this subject matter may be relevant, but that the Defendants have not provided sufficient justification for seeking such constitutionally protected information.
The six categories of information for which Plaintiffs seek protection are as follows:
1. The political activities of Plaintiffs except for those which occurred on January 20, 2001, or in specific preparation for the demonstrations of January 20, 2001; *fn2
2. The identities of persons who associate with Plaintiffs for purposes of, or incidental to, the conduct of political activity, including employees, staff, or others who are working as volunteers; *fn3
3. Contributor lists or information related to contributors;
4. Lists of political activities or causes supported by Plaintiffs; *fn4
5. Identities of any anonymous or non-public "members" or "affiliates" of Plaintiffs' organizations who did not engage in any activities related to the Inaugural Day protests; and
6. Identities of persons who anonymously participated in demonstration activity with Plaintiffs on January 20, 2001. *fn5
The breadth of information sought by the government is, to say the least, extraordinary.
In response, the government argues that a protective order limiting the use of information obtained in discovery to the custody of the parties would more than adequately address Plaintiffs' concerns, and ...