Noem Administration ordered to pay attorney fees after First Amendment violation

Demonstrators outside the South Dakota State Capitol protest in favor of the legislature...
Demonstrators outside the South Dakota State Capitol protest in favor of the legislature passing stronger protections against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.(Austin Goss Dakota News Now/KOTA)
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 7:04 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PIERRE, S.D. - A federal judge has ordered the state of South Dakota to pay lawyers for the “Blue State Refugees” $37,503 after it was found that the Noem Administration violated the organization’s First Amendment rights.

In a 12 page opinion, Judge Roberto Lange, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for South Dakota, ordered the state to pay the amount following a denial of a permit to protest on State Capitol grounds.

Last November, members of the “Blue State Refugees,” an organization made up of out-of-state transplants to South Dakota from more heavily Democratic areas, attempted to get a permit to protest for more COVID-19 vaccine exemptions on State Capitol grounds.

The Bureau of Administration, tasked with issuing permits to organizations looking to utilize state facilities, denied that permit request, citing Christmas decorating going on in the Capitol.

“We’re working to accommodate those individuals,” Governor Kristi Noem said at the time. “Nobody’s being denied their free speech rights. They will be accommodated.”

However, the opinion issued by Judge Lange says that on “December 16, 2021, the parties filed for a Stipulation for Consent Decree and Entry of Order... in which Defendants (the Noem Administration) agreed to amend their policies and guidelines for issuing permits on state Capitol grounds and conceded that Plaintiffs (Blue State Refugees) were the prevailing party.”

Alan Gura, a lawyer for the Institute for Free Speech, is set to receive $16,560 of the amount paid out. Lawyers from Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson, & Ashmore, including former Attorney General Marty Jackley, are set to receive $20,943 of the payout from the state.

“It is just disappointing how long this went on, how much the state fought,” said Luke Robertson, a member of Blue State Refugees and one of the plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit. “It doesn’t seem like the Noem Administration really respects our rights, especially our First Amendment rights.”

Governor Noem’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment on the matter.

Copyright 2022 Gray Television. All rights reserved.