Court: Activist Can Sue Pearce For Banning Him From Arizona Senate Building

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 3:13pm
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A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit brought by a local activist against former Senate president Russell Pearce. Immigrant rights advocate Salvador Reza sued Pearce four years ago for banning him from the Arizona Senate building.

On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that ban had violated Reza’s First Amendment rights and allowed Reza’s suit against Pearce to continue.

The case began in 2011 during a state senate hearing over immigration legislation. The crowd listening in an overflow room began applauding and protesting loudly. Efforts by security to quiet the crowd failed.

Later, senate president Russell Pearce told security officers to identify who was making noise and ban them from entering the senate building again. The officers added Reza to that list.

Days later, Reza tried to enter the building to meet with a senator. Security officers wouldn’t allow him in and Reza was arrested when he refused to leave.

Writing for the majority of the split three-judge panel, Judge Milan Smith, Jr. wrote that no other cases have “empowered a government official to completely ban an individual from a government meeting based on a single disruption of a hearing.''

Reza’s lawyer Stephen Montoya was pleased with the ruling.

“What the 9th Circuit’s opinion means is that government officials cannot arbitrarily kick people out of public buildings,” Montoya said.

Montoya said he believed the ruling would allow his client to prevail when the case continues at the district court level.

Pearce, who is no longer in office, criticized the ruling and the appeals court itself.

Over the years, the 9th Circuit has invalidated several state immigration laws that Pearce championed.

“The circuit court has contempt for the law, they have contempt for the Constitution, they have contempt for citizens,” Pearce told Capitol Media Services. “Anything they do should not surprise anybody.”

Reza is suing Pearce for damages. Should Reza prevail in the case and be awarded damages, they would be paid out of the state's insurance plan. Pearce's legal expenses are paid out of the same plan.

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to clarify a state-funded insurance plan is paying for Pearce's legal expenses and would pay for any civil damages in this case.

Updated 8/19/2015 3:12 p.m.