PORTLAND — OccupyMaine protesters were dealt a major setback Wednesday when a Maine Superior Court judge ruled that their tent city in Lincoln Park is not a form of constitutionally protected speech.
In a press release Wednesday afternoon, the city said it would serve the group Thursday with an eviction notice that will give the occupiers at least two days to vacate the park.
“While I understand that members of Occupy Maine may be disappointed with today’s decision, conversations concerning income disparity will continue here in Portland and throughout the nation,” Mayor Michael Brennan said in the city’s statement. “Now that these issues have been brought to the forefront, it’s time for the discussion to move indoors.”
The court ruling came a week after attorneys for OccupyMaine and the city presented their arguments to Judge Thomas Warren at the Cumberland County Courthouse, which faces Lincoln park.
A handful of protesters near the kitchen area of camp this morning said they weren’t sure what would happen next, or whether they would appeal the decision to Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court.
“We have to talk with our lawyer,” Deseree Tanguay said. “The city has told us in the past that they weren’t going to raid us, so we expect some notice.”
Many of the approximately 20 people still living at Lincoln Park are homeless. It’s unclear where they’ll go if the city evicts the encampment.
“Realistically, there’s no plan for us,” said Matt Coffey, an occupier who was previously homeless.
In his ruling, Warren denied a preliminary injunction sought by Occupy Maine. The order would have allowed the protesters to stay in the park until their lawsuit against the city is resolved.
Occupiers are suing in response to the City Council’s 8-1 decision to evict the group. They claim their activity – including the occupation of public space – is constitutionally protected political activity.
Warren said there is “no doubt” OccupyMaine is sincere in its efforts to communicate its message and engage in First Amendment activity. However, he wrote, the group’s assertion of a right to stay in the park around the clock would “conflict with the rights of others who might wish to use the park for their own First Amendment activities or for other purposes.”
“The city is not obliged to agree to such an occupation,” Warren continued. “If it did, it would be difficult to see why any other groups wishing to communicate their views would not have an equal right to permanently commandeer public spaces for that purpose.”
John Branson, the attorney for OccupyMaine, could not immediately be reached for comment. He has previously said it may not be worth continuing the lawsuit against the city if the protesters have already been evicted.
OccupyMaine members Evan McVeigh, rear, and Deseree Tanguay, react to the news Wednesday, Feb. 1, that Maine Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren had ruled against the group’s bid to stay in Lincoln Park.