Challenge to Charlottesville Panhandling Ordinance May Move Forward, Says Court of Appeals
RICHMOND – An ACLU of Virginia lawsuit challenging Charlottesville’s ban on panhandling on the Downtown Mall within 50 feet of cross streets may proceed, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled today. The opinion reverses the earlier dismissal of the case by U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon.
“[B]egging is communicative activity within the protection of the First Amendment,” the Court of Appeals wrote. The court found it “plausible” that the purpose of the ordinance was to prevent the homeless men’s “undesired presence on the Mall – in other words, to prevent [them] from conveying their unwanted message.”
“The presence of homeless people begging in public places makes some people feel uncomfortable. But the First Amendment does not allow the government to ban speech simply to prevent discomfort,” said ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg, one of the attorneys for five homeless men who regularly request money from pedestrians on the Downtown Mall.
The Court of Appeals held that Judge Moon should not have accepted Charlottesville’s “public safety” rationale for the ordinance without hearing evidence about whether such a rationale was valid.
“Localities may not ban people from asking for money simply by invoking the magic words ‘public safety,” said Glenberg, who also represented the plaintiffs. “We are confident that the evidence will show that asking for money within 50 feet of a street is no more ‘distracting’ to motorists than any other activity on the Downtown Mall.”
In addition to Glenberg, the plaintiffs were represented by Charlottesville attorney Jeffrey Fogel, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals in December.
The Court of Appeals decision can be found at https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/20130221ClatterbuckFourthCircuitOpinion.pdf
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The latest in Free Speech
ACLU Warns of Harm to Free Speech Online if Congress Dismantles Section 230
This Law Could Criminalize Everyday Conversations About Immigration
How Officials in Georgia are Suppressing Political Protest as ‘Domestic Terrorism’
Congressional Efforts to Ban TikTok in the U.S. Remain a Danger to Free Speech
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Free Speech
Protecting free speech means protecting a free press, the democratic process, diversity of thought, and so much more. The ACLU has worked since 1920 to ensure that freedom of speech is protected for everyone.