Judge allows GOP firebrands to sue two cities in deep-blue state for violating their free speech rights


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A federal judge on Friday allowed a lawsuit from Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to proceed against two California cities that canceled their rallies in 2021.

In a 22-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Hernan Vera said there is adequate evidence to suggest the GOP lawmakers have a legitimate claim against officials in Anaheim and Riverside, Calif., who shut down their events. But the judge castigated the two firebrands for alleging that a handful of liberal nonprofits had colluded with the cities to violate their free speech rights. 

The lawsuit had “numerous fatal deficiencies,” according to the judge. “Chief among them is the complete lack of any alleged facts to support a ‘meeting of the minds’ as required for a conspiracy claim.” 

HOUSE GOP FIREBRANDS ACCUSE 2 CITIES IN DEEP-BLUE STATE OF VIOLATING THEIR FREE SPEECH RIGHTS: LAWSUIT

Rep. Matt Gaetz, wearing a Laken Riley pin, is seen in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2024, ahead of the President’s State of the Union address. (Aaron Schwartz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Gaetz and Greene had planned America First rallies in Anaheim and Riverside in 2021, but both venues in both cities canceled the events after they faced pressure from activist groups and local government officials. The lawsuit, filed last year, alleges their First Amendment rights were violated after the cities coerced the private venues to cancel the rallies, including a threat to revoke one venue’s permit.

The GOP lawmakers sued, along with their funding committees. They want the court to issue an injunction that would ban cities from “coercing private venues from entering into facilities use contracts with Plaintiffs for future political rallies.” They also requested damages for emotional distress.

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Marjorie Taylor-Greene

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks to reporters outside of the U.S. Capitol Building during a vote on legislation pertaining to TikTok on March 13, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“This ruling allows the plaintiffs to proceed against the California liberal city governments who attempted to violate the First Amendment by constraining free speech,” Gaetz told Fox News Digital after Vera released his opinion Friday.

But the judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ conspiracy claims against nine civil rights groups, including the NAACP, League of Women Voters and LULAC, as “utterly devoid of any specifics plausibly alleging such an agreement.” 

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Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene

Gaetz and Greene are two of former President Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“The gravamen of Plaintiff’s claims against the Nonprofit Defendants is, both legally and literally, a conspiracy theory that relies purely on conjecture,” wrote Vera, a President Biden appointee. 

“And without an unlawful conspiracy,” the judge continued, “all that is left to aver against the Nonprofit Defendants are the unremarkable allegations that they exercised their own First Amendment rights to lobby for the cancellation of the event. That is protected.” 

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Vera said that Gaetz and Greene could not claim that their First Amendment rights had been violated by activist groups — made up of private citizens — calling for their events to be shut down. In fact, the juge accused the GOP lawmakers of attempting to “settle political scores against these civic organizations” by filing the “unprecedented and stunningly deficient pleading” in the first place. 

“[H]aling nine civil rights groups into federal court for speaking out against an event — should shock in equal measure civic members from across the political spectrum.” 

Fox News Digital’s Patrick Hauf contributed to this report.



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