Federal Judge Glen Conrad granted a preliminary injunction Friday evening in the lawsuit Jason Kessler filed against the city of Charlottesville, allowing Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally to remain in Emancipation Park. The city previously said it would only grant a permit for the rally if it was held in McIntire Park.
An emergency hearing was held Friday afternoon at the federal courthouse downtown.
In Conrad’s opinion, he stated that in order for a plaintiff to be granted a temporary injunction, it must be proven the plaintiff is “likely to succeed on the merits,” “likely to suffer irreparable harm” without it, the “balance of equities tips in his favor” and the “injunction is in the public interest.”
Conrad concluded that Kessler and his attorneys proved all of the above.
Kessler said the city’s decision to move his rally was due to content-based discrimination, stating officials chose to revoke his permit because they do not like his message. Victor Glasberg, Kessler’s attorney, noted the city did not ask for counter-protests planned in Justice Park and McGuffey Parks to be moved.
“The disparity in treatment between the two groups with opposing views suggests that the defendants’ decision to revoke Kessler’s permit was based on the content of his speech rather than other neutral factors that would be equally applicable to Kessler and those protesting against him,” Conrad wrote.
Conrad also said this claim was bolstered by other evidence, including tweets from Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer and Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy in which they expressed opinions opposing the rally.
City Attorney Craig Brown argued the decision was based solely on the number of people expected to attend the rally — which is 1,000, according to Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas’s affidavit — and how it would affect public safety.
However, Conrad said this estimate is “purely speculative” and “there is no evidence to support the notion that many thousands of individuals are likely to attend the demonstration.”
Conrad also concluded that Kessler would suffer “irreparable harm” without the temporary injunction and that an injunction protecting his First Amendment rights is in the public interest.
The rally is set to take place beginning at 12 p.m. Saturday afternoon.