By Mitch Kokai
Left-wing political activist the Rev. William Barber will not get his day at the N.C. Supreme Court. Justices at the state’s highest court have turned down Barber’s appeal of a 2019 conviction connected to a protest at the General Assembly.
Lawyers for the N.C. Department of Justice had argued in February against the Supreme Court taking up Barber’s appeal of a conviction for second-degree trespass. The conviction stemmed from the 2017 protest Barber led at the state Legislative Building.
“Defendant is not raising new constitutional questions, nor is he presenting a matter significant to the jurisprudence of the State – he is reasserting the same fact-specific arguments” offered in previous court proceedings, according to a brief filed by Special Deputy Attorney General Michael Bulleri.
Barber’s 2019 conviction carried a $200 fine, court costs, 24 hours of community service, a suspended one-day prison sentence, and two months of unsupervised probation. A three-judge Appeals Court panel unanimously upheld the ruling against Barber in December 2021.
Without a dissent from the Appeals Court, the Supreme Court faced no obligation to take Barber’s case. The activist asked the high court to hear his plea under its “discretionary review.”
In May 2017 Barber “led a group of approximately 50 people in protesting at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, where they gathered, sat in the hallway outside the legislative leaders’ offices and caused a disturbance by impeding access to and from offices, chanting, singing, yelling, and refusing to stop or leave after repeated warnings,” according to the state’s February brief.
The group was protesting Republican legislative leaders’ approach to health care policy.
“Because Defendant [Barber] was the loudest member of the group, he was given several warnings to move, lower his voice, and stop leading the chants, otherwise he would be arrested,” the brief added. “Defendant refused to move and instead, chanted louder and encouraged the crowd to continue chanting should he be arrested. Defendant refused [the] fourth and final request to leave the area and was placed under arrest.”
During his trial and in his appeals, Barber attacked the trespass charge on two fronts. First, he made procedural arguments against the way prosecutors charged him. Second, he argued that the arrest violated his First Amendment rights.
Courts have rejected both sets of arguments. “[T]he Court of Appeals applied well-established precedent in correctly finding that this case is about Defendant’s conduct – not his speech – and does not have constitutional implications,” according to the state’s brief.