Court Stops Detroit Police from Using Noise Ordinance Against Picket Line Protesters

February 12, 1999 12:00 am

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Friday, February 12, 1999

DETROIT–A federal district judge today halted enforcement of a noise ordinance here in a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of locked-out Detroit newspaper workers.

Since last summer, locked-out workers have blown whistles while picketing in front of the Detroit News and Free Press building in downtown Detroit, to remind passersby that the labor struggle at the newspapers continues. Police officers have periodically interrupted the demonstrations with threats to ticket the protesters under a local noise ordinance.

But United States District Judge John Corbett O’Meara granted a temporary injunction against enforcement of the ordinance today, saying the law, which makes it a crime to make “annoying” or “disturbing” noises, was unconstitutionally vague.

“The courts recognize enthusiastically that any impingement on First Amendment rights is subject to the closest scrutiny,” Judge O’Meara said. “Even minimal loss of First Amendment rights constitutes irreparable injury.”

Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan hailed the ruling. “This decision affirms that the First Amendment protects all political speech,” she said. “Vague laws like the Detroit Noise Ordinance have a chilling effect on political expression because protestors are unsure of what expression is permitted and what is criminal.”

The case was argued by ACLU cooperating attorney Marshall Widick of the Detroit law firm Sachs, Waldman, O’Hare, Boggs & McIntosh.

“This is a victory for the former Detroit newspaper strikers who can continue to tell their side of the ongoing labor dispute. In addition, this is a victory for the people of Detroit whose constitutional rights have also been threatened by the Detroit Noise Ordinance,” Widick said.

Read the ACLU’s earlier release on the case at /news/n122398d.html

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