Judge Dismisses Panhandling Lawsuit

U.S. District Judge Norman Moon has dismissed the lawsuit brought against the city on behalf of panhandlers, Samantha Koon reports for the Daily Progress. (See instead CBS-19’s story, if you don’t have Progress access.) Attorney Jeffrey Fogel filed the lawsuit after city council passed a law prohibiting solicitation of people doing business with vendors or within 50 feet of the crossings. Government’s ability to limiting free expression is generally constrained to time, place, and manner restrictions, and those limitations must be content-neutral. Fogel’s argument was that those restrictions are not content-neutral, because they specifically prevent people from asking for money. Moon ruled that these are merely place-based restrictions, because people are still free to ask for money outside of those areas.

6 thoughts on “Judge Dismisses Panhandling Lawsuit”

  1. Did he rule this way specifically because he wanted it to be appealed and kicked up to a higher court? This sounds like an idiotic ruling on the face of it.

    By Moon’s logic, if a government can limit speech (literally speech, without talking about stretching the definition of speech to things like campaign contributions) in particular public places, then what are the boundaries? Could a government mark out a 100 foot square in the back of a derelict park and declare this the location where free speech is allowed, while red-lining the entire remainder of the city and prohibiting speech?

    This sounds like a really lazy ruling that won’t be especially useful to anyone.

  2. The city regulates people who want to set up a table on the mall and hawk t-shirts, hats, and jewelry. Why shouldn’t it regulate people who want to do the same thing without the table, t-shirts, hats, or jewelry?

  3. The ruling sounds simple because it’s framed along existing US Supreme Court past decisions on the issue.

    There is a reasonableness factor in how much limiting can be done. Unfortunately it’s like the line about obscenity, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” But the judge addressed that by noting how much of the mall is still left unrestricted. Jack’s hypothetical about a 100 square foot free speech zone would fall in the I know it when I see it excessive restriction category.

    If an appeals court agrees to hear the appeal, I’m wondering what grounds. All I can think is that the judge erred in the findings of fact on reasonableness or that the restriction is content-neutral.

    It’s been a given since day one that any decision he made would be appealed, but the points I’ve read in the summaries of the ruling follow right down the line of issues the Supreme Court have said must be considered. Definitely not a lazy ruling, just and easy one to structure because of prior precedent.

  4. Bruce – Because beggars are panhandling, not selling merchandise.

    Mark – Did you know when you saw it regarding the proposed ‘free speech zones’ for the #occupiers?

  5. @Christian, because they are are asking you to give them money for their obnoxiousness, they are selling something.

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