A federal judge threw out a restraining order that barred the Standing Rock tribal chairman and several other pipeline protesters from "unlawfully interfering" with construction.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland wrote Friday the order no longer served a "legitimate purpose," because cases are being prosecuted locally and additional federal sanctions are not warranted.
A temporary restraining order against Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, council member Dana Yellow Fat and five other protesters was issued in mid-August after Dakota Access LLC filed a lawsuit against them. The company argued the order was necessary to stop the protesters from interfering with construction, threatening the safety of workers and ultimately costing the company business.
The order barred the protests from "unlawfully interfering in any way with the plaintiff and its representatives' access and construction of the pipeline."
The judge's action comes a day after Tim Purdon, attorney for Archambault and Yellow Fat, asked the judge to dissolve the order.
Purdon argued it was too broad and caused a chilling effect on the protesters' ability to speak and demonstrate freely.
"The temporary restraining order in this case is nothing more than an 'obey-the-law' injunction," Purdon wrote, citing cases that have struck down similar orders. "For the majority of protesters who are not First Amendment scholars, the precise line between conduct that is protected by the First Amendment and that which risks violating the temporary restraining order is not clear."
Though Hovland nixed the order, he was blatantly critical of the protests.
"To suggest that all of the protest activities to date have been 'peaceful' and 'lawful' defies common sense and reality," he wrote, mentioning incidents of vandalism, trespass and verbal taunts toward law enforcement. "Nearly every day, the citizens of North Dakota are inundated with images of 'peaceful' protesters engaging in mindless and senseless criminal mayhem."
Nearly 70 people have been arrested on protest-related allegations, including seven on felony charges.
Hovland linked some of the recent crime to "troublesome 'peaceful protesters'" from out-of-state, who he wrote have "hidden agendas vastly different and far removed from the legitimate interests of Native Americans of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who are actually impacted by the pipeline project."
On Thursday, Purdon, on behalf of Archambault and Yellow Fat, also asked Hovland to dismiss the suit against the protesters. He argued the company lost the foundation of its case when the federal government announced last week it would not authorize construction under the river at this time.
"Dakota Access' claims, through its complaint, that it has the legal right to construct the pipeline are now false," he wrote.
A call and email to Dakota Access and a call to its attorney for comment on the suit were not returned Friday.
A hearing on the restraining order scheduled for Tuesday has been canceled. The judge has not ruled on the motion to dismiss the case.
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