Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Anti-Masking Laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and the First Amendment
Reports that Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members are considering a rally in Columbia, South Carolina to support the controversial display of the confederate battle flag evokes images of hooded persons in traditional KKK garb.
However, South Carolina, like many states, has an anti-masking statute, S.C. 16-7-110, which provides:
No person over sixteen years of age shall appear or enter upon any lane, walk, alley, street, road, public way or highway of this State or upon the public property of the State or of any municipality or county in this State while wearing a mask or other device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person demand entrance or admission to or enter upon the premises or into the enclosure or house of any other person while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person, while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity, participate in any meeting or demonstration upon the private property of another unless he shall have first obtained the written permission of the owner and the occupant of such property.
As I've discussed in Dressing Constitutionally, such statutes, sometimes known as anti-KKK statutes, have been upheld against First Amendment challenges.
For example, the similar Georgia statute, passed in 1951 and still in force, makes it a misdemeanor for any person who “wears a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer” and is either on public property or private property without permission. In 1990, the Georgia Supreme Court in State v. Miller, 260 Ga. 669, 674, 398 S.E.2d 547, 552 (1990) upheld the statute against a First Amendment challenge by Shade Miller, who was arrested for appearing in KKK regalia alone near the courthouse in Gwinnet County, purportedly to protest the anti-mask statute itself. In addressing Miller’s argument that the statute was overbroad, the court interpreted the statute narrowly, but not so narrowly as to exclude the KKK. Instead, the court required the mask-wearer to have intent to conceal his identity and further that the statute would “apply only to mask-wearing conduct when the mask-wearer knows or reasonably should know that the conduct provokes a reasonable apprehension of intimidation, threats or violence.”
New York's anti-masking statute, which was not originally prompted by KKK activities but by land revolts before the Civil War, was also upheld against a challenge by the KKK. In 2004, the Second Circuit panel - - - including now United States Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor - - -decided Church of American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. Kerik, 356 F.3d 197, 201 (2d Cir. 2004). The KKK group had sought an injunction against the statute to allow a demonstration while wearing masks. Rejecting the First Amendment claim, the court agreed that the KKK regalia - - - the robe, hood, and mask - - - met the threshold requirement for expressive speech, but nevertheless separated the mask in its analysis. In the court’s view, the mask was “redundant” and did “not convey a message independently of the robe and hood.” Moreover, the court opined that mask-wearing was not integral to the expression, but optional even amongst KKK members. Thus, while the KKK members had a First Amendment right to march, they did not have a First Amendment right to do so wearing their masks.
Should KKK members attempt to demonstrate while wearing their "regalia" that includes hoods that obscures their faces, the South Carolina masking statute - - - and its constitutionality - - - are sure to be in play.