South Dakota adopts pipeline protest law, faces legal challenge

September 15, 2019

In anticipation of new protests over the Keystone XL pipeline, South Dakota lawmakers adopted two bills (SB 189 and SB 190) in March known as the “pipeline package.” According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the state, or a third party in partnership with the state, can now sue “riot boosters.” These individuals would have to pay damages equal to “three times a sum that would compensate for the detriment caused.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota filed suit in federal court soon after passage of the pipeline package. It says the measure fails to adequately describe what speech or conduct would qualify as “riot boosting” and, as a result, is unconstitutional. Elsewhere in the Midwest, Iowa legislators in 2018 enacted a law (SF 2235) to punish sabotage of “critical infrastructure,” including oil pipelines.

In 2017, North Dakota increased penalties for rioting, expanded the scope of criminal trespass onto private property to include “when notice against trespass is clear from the circumstances,” and banned protestors from concealing their faces. This year, legislators approved SB 2044, which enhances punishments for protests that encroach on or near pipelines and other “critical infrastructure.” Similar bills have been proposed in Illinois (HB 1633), Indiana (SB 471) and Ohio (SB 33).