First Amendment
Institute for Justice · September 2, 2016

The First Amendment guarantees the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. But the state of Alabama has put an asterisk on that right—the right to petition *after completing a class at the time and place of the state’s choosing.

Maggie Ellinger-Locke is the legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a DC-based non-profit group that advocates reforming the country’s marijuana policies. Speaking to legislators is a large part of Maggie’s work for MPP, but if she makes a single phone call to any Alabama legislator to discuss public policy, the state considers her a lobbyist. That means that under Alabama law, Maggie has to travel all the way to Montgomery and pass a state-mandated ethics class (which is only offered four times a year) before she can do her job.

“In Alabama, I was astonished to find that the state wanted me to physically travel to Montgomery to attend this one-hour ethics training course,” Maggie told

The Institute for Justice took up Maggie’s case in order to challenge this First Amendment violation. Maggie hopes this will clear the way for her to be able to speak freely to Alabama lawmakers and advocate what she believes in. She said:

“I would love to be able to talk with Alabama lawmakers about ways they can build on recent reforms like Carly’s Law and Leni’s Law, which provided important protections for medical-marijuana patients. And I would be doing that right now if Alabama would let me.”

IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman, who represents Maggie in the lawsuit, agrees:

 “The government cannot force you to take a class before you exercise your First Amendment rights. We do not impose that burden on parade organizers or public speakers or journalists, and we should not impose it on people who simply want to talk to state officials about matters of public policy.”