Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, protests ensued throughout California and the United States. 

In Sacramento, abortion rights advocates held a series of events to voice their disapproval of the SCOTUS’ decision. On June 24, the day of the reversal, hundreds marched throughout downtown Sacramento and made their way to West Sacramento from the Tower Bridge. Sacramento police closed streets downtown ahead of the demonstration. 

There was another group of demonstrators in downtown Sacramento on July 4, As they were protesting the Supreme Court decision, they caused traffic delays on Interstate 5. The group eventually made their way to the west steps of the Capitol grounds. 

When a protest occurs in Sacramento – or anywhere else in California – what is actually allowed in a peaceful demonstration?  

What to do if you’re attending a protest

According to the American Civil Liberties Union Southern California website, here are things you may do while protesting: 

  • Distribute leaflets, flyers or other literature on your own property or on public sidewalks, parks and plazas
  • Picket or protest on public sidewalks, parks and plazas so long as sidewalks and building entrances are not blocked
  • Chant or sing protests songs on public sidewalks, parks and plazas

As for things not to do, here is what is not allowed, according to the ACLU Southern California office: 

  • Block access to sidewalks or buildings
  • March in the streets without a permit
  • Disrupt counter-protests
  • Engage in speech that is obscene, makes knowingly false statements of fact, or that is likely to incite an immediate disruptive or dangerous disturbance

If you’re organizing a protest, do you need a permit?

Usually, you don’t need a permit to engage in free speech activity, however, according to the ACLU, certain types of events require permits, which include: 

  • A march or a parade that does not stay on the sidewalk, and other events that require blocking traffic or street closure
  • A very large rally requiring the use of sound-amplifying devices
  • A rally at certain designated parks or plazas

“Many permit procedures require that applications be filed with the police department or the city or county well in advance of the event,” ACLU Southern California said on its website. “However, the government must allow you to obtain a permit on short notice if the event is organized in response to unforeseeable and recent occurrences.” 

If an organizer doesn’t obtain a permit, a march can still. legally take place. If individuals stay on the sidewalk and obey traffic and pedestrian signals, their rights are protected, according to frequently asked questions on the ACLU Southern California website. 

Protest organizers may be required to allow enough space on the sidewalk for regular pedestrian traffic and may not obstruct or detain passers-by. 

The ACLU SoCal office advises checking with your city or local police department to find out about permitting requirements. If their requirements seem unreasonable, it’s suggested to contact your local ACLU affiliate. 

According to the ACLU, some local governments may require a fee as a condition of exercising your free speech rights, such as application fees, security deposits for clean-up or charges to cover overtime police costs.

Do counter-protestors have free speech rights? 

The ACLU said counter-demonstrators have the right to present and voice their displeasure, but they should not be allowed to physically disrupt the event they are protesting. 

Police are permitted to keep two antagonistic groups separated, but should allow them to be within the general vicinity of each other, the ACLU said. 

According to the ACLU, some courts have permitted charges that cover administrative costs and costs for re-rerouting traffic. 

However, if the costs are greater because it’s considered controversial or a hostile crowd is expected — such as requiring a large insurance policy — then the courts won’t permit it, the ACLU said. 

“Regulations with financial requirements should include a waiver for groups that cannot afford the charge,” the ACLU SoCal office said. “Check to see if other groups have been granted waivers in the past — if so, denying your group a waiver may be discriminatory.”