Glenn bill bans "mass picketing" at private residences, already illegal at businesses

Under bill, demonstrators such as at Attorney General Schuette’s home in Midland could be fined $1,000 per person per day, $10,000 per day for sponsoring organizations

Midland, Mich. -- Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, Friday announced legislation he has introduced to address unlawful "mass picketing," condemning what media reports have described as paid for, mostly out-of-state protesters -- sponsored by an international, decades-old environmental extremist and eco-terrorist group -- who Wednesday demonstrated, trespassed, and vandalized the Midland home and property of state Attorney General Bill Schuette while he was out of town, disturbing the peace of Schuette’s wife who was alone in her home during the mob action.

The website of Earth First! Thursday claimed that over 60 activists had gathered at Schuette's home to protest Enbridge Energy's continued use of an oil pipeline between the lower and upper peninsulas that runs along the bottom of Lake Michigan west of the Mackinac Bridge.

The eco-terrorist group's website also quotes an Earth First! activist's characterization of the protest which made clear that demonstrators intended to make whoever was home at the Schuette residence feel threatened: "Frida, a resident of Michigan present at the protest, commented on the escalation of tactics. 'If public officials continue to threaten our safety, then we will continue to threaten their security.'"

Glenn said if enacted, House Bill 4643, legislation he sponsored last year at the request of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, would directly apply to the Earth First! protest at Schuette's home.

The main focus of the bill is to increase fines for already illegal so-called “mass picketing” that eliminates an employer’s ability to conduct business, such as blocking the parking lot and drive-through line at a McDonald’s restaurant to intimidate customers or block their ability to access the property.

Current law also already makes it illegal to block any public roadway or otherwise restrict normal traffic flow, as local media reported occurred when the Earth First! protesters walked from the Schuette home and reassembled at a nearby roadside billboard from which they hung a large sign.

But Glenn's bill would also prohibit such demonstrations at a private residence, applying equally without regard to whether the home owner is a private citizen or a public official. The bill specifically states it would prohibit "engag(ing) in picketing a private residence by any means or methods whatever," but further states that the prohibition "does not apply to picketing that is authorized under the Constitution of the United States or the state constitution."

The U.S. Constitution states that there shall be "no law...abridging...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Michigan's state constitution similarly guarantees that "the people have the right peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, to instruct their representatives and to petition the government for redress of grievances." So-called "time and place" restrictions on such assemblies have historically been upheld by federal courts, which found they do not abridging the Right of Assembly.

Glenn said "the mob action at Attorney General Schuette's home was not peaceful, did not comply with existing trespass, vandalism, and restricting flow of traffic laws, and did not respect the home owner's privacy and property rights. That's the distinction."

“The reported trespassing, property damage, and intimidation tactics at Attorney General Schuette’s family home in Midland -- sponsored by a group with a frightening decades-long history of life- and injury-threatening eco-terrorist activities such as tree-spiking and attempts to sabotage nuclear power plants -- went far beyond our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and should be aggressively prosecuted,” said Rep. Glenn. “Mr. Schuette’s wife was alone at home as dozens of protesters, she reported, pounded on her home's windows and front door so hard that she thought they might break the door down."

"Every American has a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to peacefully protest and petition government officials to address their grievances," Glenn said, "but no mob has a right -- regardless of their cause -- to trespass on her private property, pour black liquid on her driveway, trample the grass in her front yard, hold a mock funeral and erect fake tombstones in her backyard, and violently pound on her front door to harass, terrorize, and intimidate her.”

“HB 4643 will impose significantly higher fines for those who engage in already illegal mass picketing as a form of intimidation at a workplace, and it would establish such activity as equally illegal at someone's home," Rep. Glenn said. "No person or family in any community in Michigan should be terrorized in their own home, as Mrs. Schuette was, but this type of eco-terrorist mob activity by paid protesters from out of state was certainly disrupting to the usual peace and quiet of our small town environment in Midland, a quality of life it's my duty to help preserve and protect.”

Glenn’s bill would empower home and business owners to seek a court injunction against such activity on their private property, and establish a fine of $1,000 per person per day for individuals who engage in such illegal activity in violation of a court order. The fine would be $10,000 per day for any organization such as Earth First! that claims or evidence indicates is clearly responsible for organizing, sponsoring, or financing such illegal activity.

The bill has been referred to the House Commerce and Trade Committee, of which Glenn is a member, and whose chairman, Rep. Joe Graves, R-Argentine Township, is a cosponsor of Glenn's legislation. Glenn said he expects the committee to take the bill up for consideration later this year.

Click here for the full text of HB 4643.