Judge denies Mass GOP request for restraining order against state senator
Chair Jim Lyons sought to keep Sen. Jamie Eldridge away from signature gatherers
A MIDDLESEX SUPERIOR COURT judge on Friday declined to issue a restraining order sought by Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons against state Sen. Jamie Eldridge. Lyons wanted to keep Eldridge away from volunteers who were collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn a law granting driver’s licenses to immigrants without legal status.
Michael Walsh, an attorney who represents Lyons, said while Judge Sarah Weyland Ellis ruled that Lyons did not provide enough evidence to grant the motion for a restraining order, she did put Eldridge on notice that supporters of the law should not coerce voters or intimidate volunteers gathering signatures to overturn it.
Eldridge responded, “So noted.” He said he has always stood several feet away from the signature table, but he would probably “add a few more feet to be safe.” He still plans to volunteer this weekend, as he has for a couple of hours each of the last four weekends, to encourage voters not to sign the petition.
“It’s an example where the Republican Party is invoking civil rights but is trying to deny me from participating in free speech, in this case to urge voters not to sign the petition at supermarkets this weekend,” Eldridge said.
The Legislature passed a law in June, over Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto, allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license beginning in July 2023.
Lyons and other Republicans who opposed the new law launched a campaign to place a referendum on the November ballot to overturn the law. Under state law, referendum supporters have eight weeks to collect more than 40,000 voter signatures to put the question on the ballot.
Lyons, Republican State Committeewoman Evelyn Curley, and a group of voters who had been gathering signatures to repeal the law filed a lawsuit in state court last week against Eldridge and Waltham City Councilor Jonathan Paz. The lawsuit alleges that Eldridge, Paz, and other supporters of the new law have been harassing and intimidating signature gatherers. They filed a separate lawsuit in federal court that also names union organizer Wesley McEnany, who was involved in the efforts to block signature tables, and Attorney General Maura Healey, who failed to intervene to protect the signature gathering.
The lawsuits say there has been a concerted effort by supporters of the driver’s license law to show up at shopping centers and other places where people are gathering signatures. “This campaign has exercised a heckler’s veto over signature collection efforts, by physically blocking access to the signature tables, browbeating potential signers, harassing and even assaulting signature-gatherers. The campaign against signature gathering has seen counterprotests curse and swear at voters and signature-gatherers,” the lawsuit reads.
In several locations, it says, the counter-protests have been disruptive enough that the police shut down both sides, forcing everyone to disperse and preventing signature collection. Some volunteers have stopped collecting signatures because they fear for their safety, particularly after some volunteers were subject to online harassment.
The lawsuit named Eldridge, a liberal Democrat from Acton, as a leader in the counterprotest effort, and says Eldridge physically blocked people from signature gathering tables.
Lyons asked the judge to keep Eldridge, Paz, and any affiliated protesters 20 feet away from signature gatherers over the upcoming weekend. In a ruling from the bench, Ellis declined to do so.