Some things go together: funnel cakes, summer crowds, and street vendors, for instance. The prospect of eternal damnation, on the other hand, tends to dampen the mood. So it was that several Davenport, Iowa police officers escorted street preacher Cory Sessler out of the city’s long-running “Street Fest,” leaving him to condemn the throngs from
In a case of first impression within the Sixth Circuit, a district court held that a city’s interest in protecting the exercise of a permit holder’s First Amendment rights is—at least in some circumstances—a significant interest supporting the content-neutral regulation of speech.
In 2018, Johnson City, Tennessee granted a Special Events Permit to LGBTQ organization TriPride to hold a parade and festival in a city park. At the festival, city officers enforcing the Special Events Policy moved religious protesters from blocking the park’s entrance. The protesters filed suit, claiming that this allegedly arbitrary enforcement violated their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
Earlier this month, the court held that the City of Norman, Oklahoma may enforce a disturbing-the-peace ordinance against anti-abortion protesters while their litigation claiming it violates the First Amendment is pending. The ordinance prohibits “disturb[ing] the peace of another . . . by [p]laying or creating loud or unusual sounds.” City police had cited and threatened to cite the protesters for violation when their amplified speech on sidewalks outside an abortion clinic could be heard inside the clinic. The protesters claimed that the ordinance violates their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, facially and as applied, but the district court denied their request for a preliminary injunction.
Continue Reading Tenth Circuit Upholds Denial of Preliminary Injunction Against Enforcement of Disturbing-the-Peace Ordinance
Late last month, a federal district court in Washington, D.C. dismissed First Amendment and other constitutional claims filed against the District by a non-Black Christian group pertaining to the now-famous “Black Lives Matter” mural painted on 16th Street.
Following widespread protests in U.S. cities in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of white police officers in Minneapolis—and shortly after federal law enforcement officials cleared protesters in Lafayette Park with tear gas to allow for a photo opportunity for President Trump—D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser directed the D.C. Department of Public Works to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow letters on 16th Street. The mural, which is in close proximity to the White House, was widely acknowledged as expressing support for protesters and the Black community and in protest of actions taken by the President.…
Continue Reading Court Dismisses Claims Against D.C. Over “Black Lives Matter” Street Mural
Since the rest of the world seems to be taking a break from regular activities amid the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ll take a break from our regularly-scheduled programming to offer our view of the pandemic through the lens of our favorite topic: First Amendment rights.
China’s response to the outbreak in Wuhan is well-documented. Mandatory quarantines, citywide shutdowns, prohibitions on gatherings, and other such actions were implemented swiftly. We in the United States have not yet seen such a response, and there’s no telling whether such a response will be needed. But because we enjoy more individual liberties than do Chinese citizens, what might be the legal consequences of some of these actions? We offer some thoughts below for state and local regulators:…
Continue Reading COVID-19 and the First Amendment: Thoughts for State and Local Regulators
Last week, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Vallejo, California’s requirement that a person obtain a permit before using a sound amplification is likely unconstitutional. The court’s decision reverses the district court’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction, and allows the case to proceed to additional stages of litigation.
Joseph Cuviello is an animal rights activist in Vallejo who wished to protest alleged animal mistreatment at Six Flags Discovery Park, an amusement park. Cuviello has been active in protesting Six Flags since 2006. In 2014, Cuviello decided to begin protesting on a public sidewalk outside of the park, using a bullhorn. Vallejo, however, requires a permit for the use of sound amplification devices, and the city imposes restrictions on the use of such devices. Cuviello filed suit against the city, challenging the permit requirement as an unconstitutional prior restraint, and the ordinance as impermissibly vague and content based. Cuviello eventually abandoned the latter arguments, and the court’s decision focused entirely on the prior restraint question.…
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Finds That Permit Requirement For Bullhorns Violates First Amendment
In a case that we reported on previously, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has entered a ruling in favor of a group of animal rights activists that wished to protest the Barnum and Bailey Circus in a government-owned convention center and arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
The facts of the case can be found in our earlier posts. At issue on appeal were questions of whether the government could limit the area allowed for protests at the arena, whether the protesters could be prohibited from using profane language, and whether the convention center could prohibit the use of sound amplification.…
Continue Reading Appeals Court Affirms District Court Ruling in Favor of Pennsylvania Animal Rights Activists
Earlier this summer, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Sandy City, Utah’s restriction on sitting or standing in a street median of less than 36 inches in width met constitutional muster. Although the regulation was principally aimed at addressing panhandling activity, the court found the regulation to be content neutral, affirming an earlier district court ruling in the case. The court’s decision appears to offer an avenue for local governments to address safety concerns associated with panhandling, without treading on constitutionally unstable ground.
The Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert resulted in the invalidation of many restrictions on panhandling in municipalities around the United States. To get around the legal defects associated with panhandling prohibitions, municipalities—like Sandy City—have adopted general restrictions on sitting, standing, and remaining in street medians to achieve the same ends.…
Continue Reading Utah City’s Median Restriction Found Content Neutral, Constitutional
In a case we reported on last year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction in a case involving protests outside of a Planned Parenthood location in a Memphis, Tennessee business. The case previously turned on the fact that the street in front of the clinic was a private street. The district court had determined that, because the street was private, it could not be a public forum in which anti-abortion protests could take place.
The Sixth Circuit’s decision, issued yesterday, turned on the fact that the private street in question was “physically indistinguishable” from adjacent public streets. The court reasoned that, because the private street was paved and had no signage indicating that it was privately-owned, a reasonable member of the public would likely consider the street public. Thus, the court classified the street as a traditional public forum. The court was also swayed by the fact that there appeared to be a dedication of the street on the subdivision plat for the business park in question, and that the public had impliedly accepted the street as a public street through public use of the street. The court went on to apply strict scrutiny (although it did not conduct any analysis as to whether the restrictions on the street’s use were content based), and reversed the district court’s order.…
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Reverses Denial of Preliminary Injunction in Memphis Planned Parenthood Case
The rats and cats are back. We first reported on this case in 2016, after the Seventh Circuit determined that it might be moot. As it turns out, the case was not moot, and “Scabby the Rat” returned to the appeals court again. In a ruling last month, the Seventh Circuit found that the district court properly determined that the town’s ordinance prohibiting the inflatable rat was not content based and accorded with the First Amendment.
The facts of the case can be found in our earlier post. After the Seventh Circuit suggested that the case might be moot due to an agreement between the union and employer, the case went back to the district court. The district court subsequently found the case not to be moot, as the union was seeking damages for its inability to place the rat in the right-of-way. In its ruling, the district court then found that the ordinance in question—which prohibited the placement of private signs in town right-of-ways—was content neutral and survived First Amendment scrutiny.…
Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin Ordinance Prohibiting Inflatable “Scabby the Rat”