Gov. Tim Pawlenty should stick to working on the state's budget crisis and let judges decide how to deal with protesters.
The governor's spokesman last week said "effective immediately" Pawlenty wants to see judges begin ordering restitution for the costs of arresting protesters. Frustrated by anti-war protesters who were purposely getting arrested and draining law enforcement resources during the fight on terrorism, Pawlenty issued his request in a letter to Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz.
Twenty-eight protesters were arrested last week for refusing to leave Sen. Norm Coleman's St. Paul office. An even larger number were arrested for blocking the entrance to the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis.
While we understand Pawlenty's frustration that scarce law enforcement resources must be used for these purposes, his request strikes us as a measure that would immediately be struck down by any court of appeal.
The court system has long upheld the rights of citizens to protest against the government. Singling them out for arrest costs, and ignoring other more serious criminals would be unwise and probably unconstitutional.
Free speech isn't necessarily polite or pretty. Sometimes it's expensive too. Current law would allow restitution to be ordered if a protester busts down a door but not if she sits and waits to be arrested.
Pawlenty justifies his proposal because "protesters have openly admitted they're using the arrest process as a public relations initiative."
Yet the governor, who has no authority to require judges to order restitution, is on a bit of a public relations initiative himself. His proposal drew praise from many conservative radio talk show hosts and he was scheduled to be interviewed on the topic last week by Hugh Hewitt on a nationally syndicated radio show.
There's a delicate balance between the exercise of free speech and governmental authority. It's best not to muck it up with Gov. Pawlenty's restitution proposal.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.