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Team Ravnsborg Contradicts Noem in Weak Defense of Anti-Protest Law

Jason Ravnsborg’s legal team appears to be losing another lawsuit. In federal court yesterday in Rapid City, Deputy Attorney General Rich Williams tried to defend Governor Kristi Noem’s rushed anti-protest/pro-Keystone XL laws by seeing the laws don’t intend to do exactly what Governor Noem said they were intended to do, target out-of-state advocates:

South Dakota Deputy Attorney General Rich Williams went back-and-forth with Judge Piersol, arguing the law only applies to violence-inducing speech made by a riot participant. Williams is representing Gov. Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

The argument differed from Noem’s comments when she introduced the bill. In a March 4 news release announcing the bill package, she said, “This package creates a legal avenue, if necessary, to go after out-of-state money funding riots that go beyond expressing a viewpoint but instead aim to slow down the pipeline build.”

At a press conference the same day, Noem said that George Soros is the “most typical national offender” who funds violent out-of-state protesters [Sarah Mearhoff, “State Argues ‘Riot-Boosting’ Law Doesn’t Target Out-of-State Protest Supporters,” Rapid City Journal, 2019.06.12].

It’s always worth recalling Noem’s anti-Semitic lie in full:

Noem says the bill is aimed to prevent out-of-state paid protestors from coming in and causing riots. She points to pipeline demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline. When asked for examples of out-of-state donors, she points to a wealthy, Jewish philanthropist…

“I’d say the most typical national offender that we see funding these types of activities would be George Soros,” Noem says. “Those types of entities that want to come in and create disruption on a build, with this infrastructure, is what we’re hoping to shut down.”

A spokeswoman for Open Society Foundations, a George Soros backed non-profit, says there was no involvement in North Dakota.

Laura Silber says Soros and the Foundations oppose violence of any sort. She says it’s odd the governor is seeking to tarnish the recent surge in citizen activism.

“And to suggest that somebody is paying for these people to turnout and protest and do someone’s  bidding that’s paid for by Mr. Soros or anyone else, it does a grave disservice to these people who are standing up and making their voices heard,” Silber says. “Whether that’s in South Dakota or anywhere else in this country” [Lee Strubinger, “Governor Indicates George Soros Funding Out-of-State Protestors,” SDPB Radio, 2019.03.05].

Kristi Noem’s anti-Semitism isn’t on trial, but the veracity of her public statements now is. Team Ravnsborg’s legal strategy signals that Governor Noem lied to us about the real target of her anti-protest laws. It also leaves me scratching my head, because saying they aren’t targeting out-of-state advocates doesn’t change the ACLU’s argument that the vague riot-boosting laws chill the speech of advocates, whether out-of-state or in-state.

Even Rep. Tim Goodwin, who is several marbles shy of reliable legal scholarship, acknowledged in a May blog post that the bills he voted for target people and organizations who hire protestors, not just participants in protests against pipelines. How a Deputy Attorney General can walk into court and claim otherwise defies my comprehension.

It also defies Judge Lawrence Piersol’s comprehension:

Piersol replied to Wednesday’s arguments by the state, saying, “I don’t think I can decide it on that basis because I think that the state’s reading is not a correct reading of the statute.

“Frankly, I don’t think I should completely ignore the fact that the whole billing of this, including press statements and everything else by leaders of the state government has been, ‘We’re going to get those outsiders,'” Piersol continued. “And now they’re saying by a strange reading of this that it’s only going to be speech that is at the same time of the riot. If that is what this is intended for, that’s not the way I read the statute” [Mearhoff, 2019.06.12].

When your judge tells you that you are misreading the law you’re trying to defend, you need a new defense… and maybe new lawyers.


  1. leslie 2019-06-13 11:01

    Like Trump, Kristi has “free” lawyers

  2. Donald Pay 2019-06-13 11:17

    Well, the AG is just doing the best it can in its defense of an unconstitutional bill. They have to downplay it as a nothing burger to salvage maybe small piece of it, and not have the Republicans totally humiliated once again. Even if this is ruled unconstitutional, the state still has an overreaching riot statute that has been on the books, so it’s not as if they don’t have tools to deal with “riot.”

  3. jerry 2019-06-13 13:41

    Cory, GNoem’s Antisemitism should be on trial. Gnoem republicans hate the Jews with a passion, you can even see that on some posts here on your blog.

  4. Debbo 2019-06-13 14:30

    Such an incompetent state house in SD matches well with DC.

  5. Rebecca 2019-06-13 15:34


    The lawsuit is not just against the riot booster act–it’s also against those old unconstitutional state riot statutes that have never been scrutinized in light of Brandenburg v. Ohio.
    That part of the lawsuit is just not getting as much public airplay. But it is there.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-06-13 18:43

    Jerry, Mike, by making this absurd claim that the law doesn’t target out-of-state funders, DAG Williams opened the door for reading Noem’s anit-Semitic lie into the record and launching it into the papers again for another go-round of bad press. Totally unforced error by Team Ravnsborg, who isn’t paying attention to headline news.

  7. John 2019-06-13 19:31

    There oughta be a law awarding treble civil damages from personal accounts of legislators and governors who supported unconstitutional bills – with a perpetual look-back provision.
    That would stop most of this emotional right-wing nonsense.

  8. mike from iowa 2019-06-13 19:46

    Cory, hopefully someone puts the screws to these reckless pols state and nationwide. Words do matter. Thank you for taking the time to keep us up to date and better informed than the dark side.

  9. Debbo 2019-06-13 20:18

    John, I like your idea. Cory, as SD’s next governor, will you support that?

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-06-14 07:19

    Debbo, I’m not sure I can support that. Personal liability for votes in the Legislature seems to have too much opportunity for backlash: suppose the doddering Trump court gets hold of all the other good bills I’ll pass during my governorship and declares them all unconstitutional in their last gasp before their Republican apartheid collapse around them. I prefer to stick with more basic accountability: when lawmakers act against the Constitution, we need to vote them out.

  11. Hugh Hagel 2019-06-15 08:17

    Well, this isn’t the state of S.D.s first rodeo as far as the ACLU is concerned. Here’s how it works, our legislature writes a law that violates the first amendment Then the ACLU sues us our Attorney General has to work overtime defending said law , and may have to hire outside lawyers that specialize in first amendment law, these guys don’t come cheap; but generally they are only hired on appeal. How does this all end , we loose, and pay the ACLU lawyers, out lawyers, and hopefully we haven’t appealed and have to pay these lawyers . The rodeo is over and all the state did was guarantee employment for ACLU lawyers and make fools of our voters.

  12. mike from iowa 2019-06-15 10:23

    as there ever been a wingnut AG in South Dakota who has actually told the lege their laws are unconstitutional on face.

    I realize wingnuts do not care about the constitutionality of what they write. Their end game is to get this mess in front of a compliant, ideological SCOTUS that will give them the free rein they seek to discriminate against everyone except white, fauxknee kristians.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-06-15 13:54

    First rodeo? Ravnsborg can’t even get on the horse. Ravnsborg already needs outside help.

    Hugh makes a good point: attentive Republicans would try to put ACLU lawyers out of work by not passing bad bills.

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