No Rules in Place at 'Town Halls'

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2009 10:54 AM CDT
Guests to President Barack Obama town hall meeting at Broughton High School document his visit on July 29, 2009 in Raleigh, North Carolina.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – With health care town hall meetings around the country turning into shouting matches and even brawls, you might be wondering if there are any rules governing these things. But there aren’t, explains Christopher Beam of Salon. Political town halls are just informal gatherings, with no set format on who can talk or for how long. If the crowd gets out of hand, the organizers alone are responsible for settling them down.

Disorderly conduct statutes could apply against the rowdiest protesters, though those differ from state to state. In 1982, New York Mayor Ed Koch declared that at his town halls, any behavior that “materially prevents” the speaker from being heard would be considered disorderly conduct. Political town halls are, in short, a far cry from the governmental town hall meetings they’re based on. Those traditional New England meetings are, if nothing else, exceedingly orderly.