Judge grants Occupiers all-night stays at State House

Occupy Columbia protestor rallies in front of the Statehouse late Wednesday afternoon.

Columbia, SC (WACH) - A judge has granted the Occupy Columbia demonstrators a temporary restraining order allowing them to resume their round-the-clock occupation of State House grounds.

According to the order, signed Wednesday by circuit court judge Alison Lee, the demonstrators will be allowed to bring sleeping bags and tents to protest on the grounds 24 hours a day. They can continue for the next ten days until a hearing for a permanent injunction set for December 1.

"It sends a strong message to those in the Statehouse who wish to infringe upon our First Amendment rights to be here," said Occupier Gregory Karr. "We are very excited about this but do acknowledge that this is one step on a very long road."

Seven Occupiers are named as plaintiffs in the legal filing. They argued their First Amendment rights to assemble and to speak freely were injured when, last Wednesday, Gov. Nikki Haley declared that Occupiers must be off State House grounds by 6 p.m. every night. Nineteen demonstrators were arrested that day after challenging the decree.

Haley, Department of Public Safety director Leroy Smith, several state lawmakers and constitutional office-holders are named as defendants in Wednesday's legal filing. Several Occupiers also sued the governor and state public safety officials on Wednesday, arguing their First Amendment rights were violated when they were arrested last week on public grounds.

A Haley spokesman says the administration vows to fight the temporary restraining order.

"Let's be clear. You have a group that lived on the grounds for 33 days, destroyed public property, used the Statehouse flower beds as a toilet,"said spokesman Rob Godfrey. "Now a judge says, 'forget the rules, forget their actions, and by the way bring your tent.' It's unacceptable, and we will fight it every step of the way."

Judge Alison Lee's order temporarily allows the group to return to the State House grounds without the restrictions placed on them by the governor and DPS. Lee wrote that Haley's decree appears to damage the protesters' right to free speech.

"This is really good because, you know, we have to stand up for the Constitution, abide by the Constitution," said Benedict College student Johnta Jacobs.

Jacobs joined the Occupy Columbia movement the day it started on October 15.

On Monday night, nearly 200 Occupy demonstrators rallied against Haley's 6 p.m. curfew well past that deadline. Some also spent the night. No arrests were made.

The demonstrators are planning to camp out on State House grounds until next week's hearing. They are also planning a Thanksgiving feast there on Thursday afternoon.