The right to join in peaceful assembly and petition is critical to an effective democracy and is at the core of the First Amendment. The assault of peaceful protestors in the pursuit of racial justice is not a new phenomenon, and legislators at the federal and state levels have drafted anti-riot provisions as a measure to target protestors they deem an existential threat to American society. As these provisions have become increasingly prevalent in light of the protests following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, they have the likelihood of severely chilling the effect on protestors’ right to freedom of expression.
This Note examines these effects, considering the Anti-Riot Act of 1968’s intent to protect the public from violent protestors and, in light of congressional inaction due to ongoing political polarization, asks whether presidential intervention is warranted. More specifically, this Note determines whether the Act’s current interpretation meets Congress’s intent or subverts the constitutional right to freedom of expression. This Note contends that while persuasive arguments exist both in support for harsher anti-riot provisions and for a novel approach to address public safety, these arguments tend to rely on anecdotal evidence due to the limited scholarship on this topic. Therefore, this Note argues that the president should establish a commission to comprehensively investigate the recent outbreaks of racially motivated protests before potentially moving forward with executive action.