The District has appealed a federal court judge's decision to allow the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to march along 11 blocks of Constitution Avenue NW tomorrow, bringing into question exactly where the Klan will eventually march.
U.S. District Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer ruled in favor of the suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Klan late Thursday night, granting Klan members the right to march from the Washington Monument to the Capitol along Constitution Avenue. The District was willing to allow a march on only four blocks of the avenue because D.C. police said they could not adequately ensure the safety of the marchers over a longer route. About 50 Klan members are expected.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals was still considering the case late yesterday.
None of the city's lawyers could be reached for comment on the appeal.
Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU, said he responded to the papers filed by the District.
"Basically, the city made the same argument that they could not provide adequate security for the longer route," he said. "We in turn said we had legal experts who said otherwise."
Spitzer said he was willing to pursue the case to the U.S. Supreme Court on an emergency basis if the appeals court decision favored the city.
The planned march, whatever its length, will disrupt traffic and parking over a large area of downtown Washington along the Mall and around the Capitol. Most major streets near the planned march will be closed to parking and vehicular traffic beginning at 8 a.m. tomorrow.
The National Gallery of Art and its east wing, along the proposed parade route, will close during regular hours tomorrow but will be open for three hours in the evening, from 6 to 9, said spokeswoman Deborah Ziska.
"The police asked us to close," she said. "We thought we would offer evening hours as a special treat."
The Smithsonian museums will remain open for regular hours tomorrow but will close the doors of the Natural History and American History buildings on the Constitution Avenue side, according to a spokeswoman. Madison Drive, one of the two main roads through the Mall, will be closed for the day.
A spokesman for the All Peoples Congress, which has vowed to stop the Klan from marching, said members had abandoned all efforts to obtain permits to demonstrate along the parade route because the areas offered them are too far from Constitution Avenue.
Hillel Cohen, an organizer for the counterdemonstrators, said they expected to gather on 14th Street NW near Constitution Avenue, where no permit was required. "Our permit is the First Amendment," he said.
The last time the Christian Knights tried to march in Washington, during the Labor Day weekend, anti-Klan demonstrators amassed along the parade route and blocked the street. D.C. police later escorted the 44 Klan members directly to the Capitol, where they held a brief rally.
Later, Klan leader Virgil Griffin said his constitutional rights had been violated by D.C. police and he sought another march permit.
At a news conference Thursday evening outside U.S. District Court, Griffin was asked about the message he sought to deliver tomorrow.
"It's definitely the right to march," he said. "I should have the same rights to have my walk down Constitution Avenue without anybody threatening me or threatening any of my people."