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ACLU pushes back after Pennington County sheriff motions for dismissal from Keystone XL 'riot boosting' lawsuit

The Syncrude oil sands plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 28, 2015. The Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil from Canadian oil sands fields to the Gulf of Mexico, has long been at the center of a struggle pitting environmentalists against advocates of energy independence and economic growth. Copyright 2017 New York Times

PIERRE, S.D. -- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is buckling down in their federal lawsuit against South Dakota's rioting laws after Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom motioned to be dismissed from the case.

The ACLU on March 28 filed a lawsuit in the United States South Dakota District Court against Thom, as well as Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, after Noem proposed and signed a controversial pipeline protest bill package in March ahead of TransCanada's impending Keystone XL pipeline construction. One of Noem's laws establishes civil penalties for "riot boosting," or encouraging protesters to engage in violence, which the ACLU argues is vague and unconstitutional.

Thom is arguing that he shouldn't be listed as a defendant in the case. His April 23 motion to dismiss said that South Dakota's rioting and pipeline protest laws are the state's, not Pennington County's, and therefore the injury is not fairly traceable him as a county sheriff.

In a response filed Tuesday, May 14, the ACLU retorted that Thom is an appropriate defendant because the laws' enforcement would be under his discretion in Pennington County. The ACLU told The Rapid City Journal after filing the suit in March that Thom was included because they expect many Keystone XL protests to take place in Pennington County.

Noem and Ravnsborg have also requested that the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that the laws are constitutional.

The ACLU is arguing that Noem's "riot boosting" law, as well as two existing rioting statutes, are unconstitutionally vague and infringe upon First Amendment rights to free speech and protest.