Free Speech For People Goes To St. Louis

This week Free Speech For People's Legal Director Ron Fein traveled to St. Louis MO to join Take Back St. Louis as Legal Co-Counsel on behalf of their claim against Peabody Energy. On March 31st, St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker was set to rule on a permanent injunction, after granting a temporary restraining order earlier this year.

Take Back St. Louis is working in the city to change the current model of giving tax breaks for fossil fuels development. Last year the group collected over 22,000 signatures for a ballot initiative that would simultaneously address climate change and urban development priorities by ending the city’s practice of giving tax breaks to fossil fuel corporations.

The opponents challenged it in state court and the judge granted the opponents’ motion for a preliminary injunction against printing the ballots, finding that the initiative violated the Equal Protection Clause. The judge cited the ruling in Citizens United to explain why business entities “are entitled to constitutional protection as citizens."

During the trial, Arielle Klagsbrun from the Take Back St. Louis campaign was the sole witness called.

Ron highlighted a back and forth between the council during the cross-examination of Arielle, where he objected to the corporations involved being referred to as "people." The exchange is below:

Q: You've listed people that you believe to be unsustainable energy producers in some of your materials?

Ron Fein: Objection to the characterization [of corporations] as people.

Mr. Schwartz: Good objection. Your Honor, I'll rephrase that.

Photo: FSFP's Ron Fein & Take Back St. Louis' Arielle Klagsburn

After the hearing, Ron Fein had the following statement:

Today, the Take Back St. Louis initiative campaign finally got its day in court. We submitted extensive testimony and written evidence in support of the initiative. We look forward to getting this initiative out of the courtroom and into the ballot box so that the people of St. Louis -- not fossil fuel companies and their lawyers -- can determine the future of their city.

Arielle Klagsbrun from the Take Back St. Louis campaign released the following statement:

As someone who helped draft the Take Back St. Louis initiative, I was glad to take the stand and dispel the myths raised by Peabody’s lawyers. This is initiative is about reorienting our city’s investment priorities towards sustainable development.

A ruling is expected by Judge Dierker after April 11.

Pre-Trial Event At Peabody Energy HQ

March 30th marked the night of the pre-trial event in front of Peabody Energy's headquarters. There were upwards of 50 people there in celebration of democracy.

Photo: of Ron Fein giving his speech at the event in front of Peabody Energy

Read Ron's full speech below:

I’m Ron Fein. I’m the Legal Director at Free Speech For People, a national nonprofit organization that works to challenge the misuse of corporate power and restore democracy to the people. We were founded the day of the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision, and we push back against claims that corporations have constitutional rights that trump laws made by the people, like the law that you’ve been trying to get passed here in St. Louis. And when we heard that Peabody Coal’s lawyers convinced a judge that the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution – which was passed to protect African Americans after the Civil War – prevents an initiative like this from even making it onto the ballot, we knew this was a battle worth fighting. So I’m proud to be joining the legal team that’s fighting to get this measure back onto the ballot. But that’s not what I want to talk about right now. What I want to tell you is that this is not just about this one court case and this one ballot initiative in this one city. This campaign is about something much bigger: what kind of country will we be? Will we keep subsidizing coal mining even as it destroys our landscape and our waters, and the burning of that coal, even as it pollutes our air and threatens irreversible changes to our climate? Or will we work toward a cleaner future? Will we give away public dollars to big business even as our country slides into the greatest inequality it has known in generations and many Americans can barely get by? Or will we build strong, diverse, and healthy communities with economies and politicians that don’t rely on a few big companies in downtown towers? Will our society be at the beck and call of mega-corporations? Or will it be, as so many fought for, a nation ruled by we the people? You’ve been working on this struggle for a long time, and there may be a long road ahead. But tomorrow morning, we’ll do our best to put the struggle back where it belongs—not in the courtroom, but in the living rooms and kitchens, where you’ll be talking with your friends, co-workers, and neighbors about their chance not just to change the path of this city, but of the world. Be strong, be confident, and take back St. Louis!