Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

Greene and Gaetz Cleared to Sue California Cities Over Event Cancellations, Despite Judge’s Criticisms

On Friday, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit filed by Congressional Members Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) to continue. The pair of MAGA-branded lawmakers filed the suit in July after two California cities canceled political events that they headlined in 2021. 

One of the cities being sued is Anaheim, where an America First rally was canceled on the day of the planned event. The City of Anaheim made a social media post pointing to safety concerns but also made note of limiting free speech, writing: 

As a city we respect free speech but also have a duty to call out speech that does not reflect our city and its values.

The America First Rally, a national tour, faced multiple cancellations as venues in Laguna Hills and Riverside Convention Center before Anaheim rejected hosting the event. The Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills initially canceled, citing a desire to distance themselves from the rally. The event was then relocated to the Riverside Convention Center, only to be rejected again. Riverside is the second CA city listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. 

The Anaheim cancellation marks the third venue refusal for the rally, so Gaetz organized a protest “against communism” in Riverside in response to the serial event cancellations in Southern California. 

While U.S. District Judge Hernan Vera’s 22-page opinion is a small legal victory for Gaetz and Greene, the court admonished them for attributing the cancellations to various liberal advocacy groups, including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) who were listed in the suit as non-profit defendants.

Judge Vera called the claims a “conspiracy theory that relies purely on conjecture” while concluding that the nonprofit groups are accused of exercising their own First Amendment rights, writing:

…both legally and literally, a conspiracy theory that relies purely on conjecture. And without an unlawful conspiracy, all that is left to aver against the Nonprofit Defendants are the unremarkable allegations that they exercised their own First Amendment rights to lobby for the cancellation of the event. That is protected.

While the non-profit groups may be excused from liability, Gaetz and Greene are seeking damages and legal injunctions to prevent future cancellations of their events in the cities. While the city officials’ decisions were partially influenced by political pushback from civic groups and their members, the crux of their complaint is that city officials pressured the venues to withdraw their events. 

For example, in Riverside, members of the city council expressed opposition to the rally. Council member Ronald Fierro said,

The hateful and racist rhetoric that will be perpetrated at this event by these two well-known extremists has absolutely no place in our City.

Notably, the involvement of John Eastman as counsel in this legal battle adds a layer of complexity to the case. Eastman is a Trump associate and a defendant in the Fulton County election interference case brought against the former president and 18 others by District Attorney Fani Willis

Ultimately, Judge Vera acknowledged that Gaetz and Greene had a plausible case due to “viewpoint discrimination,” leaving the door open for the plaintiffs to pursue legal action against the cities.

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