SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota’s governor said Thursday that the state has agreed not to enforce aspects of laws that critics say were meant to suppress expected protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, under a settlement with a group that challenged the laws as unconstitutional.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement that as part of the state’s settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, she agreed not to enforce the parts of the laws that made it a crime to direct or encourage others to “riot.”
The ACLU sued over the laws, saying they infringed on free speech rights. And a federal judge last month granted the group’s request for a temporary injunction that blocked enforcement of aspects of the laws that allowed the state to pursue criminal or civil penalties against demonstrators who engage in so-called riot boosting, which the laws defined in part as encouraging violence during a riot. The settlement agreement makes that injunction permanent.
Stephen Pevar, the ACLU’s lead attorney for the lawsuit, lauded the agreement, saying the state had clearly overstepped when passing the laws.
“They went way further than just preventing violence, they sought to inhibit speech,” he said.
In her statement, Noem emphasized that rioting is still a crime and said she is “focused on preserving law and order while protecting the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.”
The Republican-led Legislature passed the laws this year after neighbouring North Dakota dealt with months of sometimes disruptive protests over the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Noem has said the law is meant to address problems caused by “out-of-state rioters funded by out-of-state interests.”
As construction plans for the Keystone XL pipeline move forward, environmental and Native American groups have pledged to protest and challenge the construction in court. There are already legal battles in several states.
“We will celebrate this win but remain vigilant against further government attempts to outlaw our right to peacefully assemble,” said Dallas Goldtooth, who is an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
The Canadian company building the pipeline plans to prepare the construction sites this year and begin construction next year. The final pipeline will stretch 1,184-miles (1,900 kilometres) and will be able to ship up to 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with lines that can carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries. President Donald Trump has supported the $8 billion project.