A federal judge in Alabama ruled that a controversial law used last year to persecute protesters across the country is constitutional.
On Thursday, Judge Terry Moorer of the US District Court in Mobile issued an order denying defense lawyers’ claims that the federal anti-riot law was racially biased. Pugh is charged with breaking the law during a protest following the murder of George Floyd last year.
The 22-year-old’s lawyers and critics have argued that the law is racially biased and has been used selectively to persecute those who have participated in protests against racial justice and the ending of police violence. But Moorer, in his opinion, stated that people demonstrating in support of a range of political movements – from the January 6th Uprising to the black life issue – have been charged with breaking the law.
“Each of the law enforcement actions that arose from these protests involve individuals of different races and genders with extremely different ideologies,” the judge wrote. “Thus, the court finds that to the extent that Pugh brings a selective law enforcement action, the lawsuit fails.”
After Moorer, a black representative of former President Donald Trump, ratifies the law, Pugh’s prosecution can move forward. She faces a single charge of violating the Federal “Civil Disorders” Act, which has been criticized in recent months for being used to persecute people allegedly violent while participating in protests.
The selection of the jury for the process begins on the Monday before Moorer.
Gordon Armstrong, one of Pugh’s two attorneys, told AL.com in an email on Friday that they “are disappointed, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. The constitutional issues raised in the motion will now become appeal issues when we get this far. We have given our full attention to the trial and look forward to defending this citizen against the power of a prosecutor. “
Mobile Police arrested Pugh after allegedly breaking the window of a police vehicle with a baseball bat during a protest against racial justice in Mobile on May 31, 2020.
“Whenever someone crosses a line of willful property destruction and we can determine who the perpetrator is, the approach we will take is to hold them accountable by bringing charges against them,” said Lawrence Battiste, chief executive the mobile police, told Fox 10 messages shortly after their arrest.
Critics claim that prosecutors are pushing the boundaries of the law by using it to prosecute those involved in activities that are illegal but do not lead to a riot.
Armstrong argued earlier this year that the law “emerged from a racist backlash against the civil rights movement and gave prosecutors too much discretion to indict almost anyone involved in a heated confrontation with the police during a public demonstration,” Politico said .
And some experts, like Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School, argue that such incidents do not require federal prosecution.
“I think most of these crimes, even these types of local crimes, even local unrest, are left to the state’s jurisdiction by the Constitution,” she told Politico in June. “State and local authorities are better able to handle this, and they seem to handle it.
Pugh’s attorneys also objected to the constitutionality of the law, but Moorer denied those claims in his order on Thursday.
Pugh is also facing pending misdemeanor charges by the City of Mobile for second-degree criminal mischief and incitement to riot. The case is scheduled for a hearing in the Mobile City Court on July 8th.