New Orleans to Lose Lawsuit

New Orleans to Lose Lawsuit February 2, 2012

The New Orleans City Council recently passed an ordinance aimed at reducing panhandling in the French Quarter, but they included a provision that is clearly unconstitutional and almost certain to end with them losing a lawsuit when it is inevitably challenged in court:

When the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance in October prohibiting “aggressive solicitation” by people who allegedly harass or intimidate French Quarter residents and tourists while asking for money, it included a seemingly unrelated provision that attracted no attention at the time.

That sentence, almost at the end of the eight-page ordinance, said: “It shall be prohibited for any person or group of persons to loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.”

Apparently this is aimed primarily at street preachers:

When someone complained about the law this week, however, it was not to challenge it as an infringement on First Amendment freedoms. Instead, former mayoral candidate Leo Watermeier complained to Palmer and Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson in public emails that religious demonstrators, sometimes with large signs and bullhorns, have been showing up on Bourbon Street on Friday and Saturday nights, yet police have taken no action against them.

The bullhorns might be a problem, but only if the same rules are applied to everyone making the same level of noise. But you don’t solve that by passing a clearly unconstitutional law that prohibits all gatherings to send any political or religious message.

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  • Doug Little

    religious demonstrators, sometimes with large signs and bullhorns, have been showing up on Bourbon Street on Friday and Saturday nights

    Actually these types of groups show up at all the fun places to go. I have actually tried to strike up a conservation with the ones on Bourbon but couldn’t get any traction. Don’t know whether it was my line of questioning or the fact that I was dressed in drag that was putting them off.

  • jamessweet

    This is the admittedly somewhat steep price we pay for the First Amendment. I’m willing to pay it — well, most days at least — but it would be really cool if we could legislate those loud preachy douchebags out of existence without threatening freedoms for the rest of it.

    I absolutely recognize that freedom of speech means absolutely nothing at all unless it includes freedom for unpopular, offensive speech. But man, that really hurts when the speech in question is unpopular for a damn good reason.

    Can’t remember where I first heard it (maybe even here?), but I liked it when I heard somebody refer to Fred Phelps as a “First Amendment beta tester”.

  • Abby Normal

    How is the ability to pass a high school level civics class not a requirement for being a legislator?

  • The Lorax

    It’s pretty incredible how many lawsuits are popping up nowadays that are unconstitutional, but only because of the 1st Amendment. We’ve got a pretty large Constitution, and several laws aside from that… yet, the very first one seems to be the one everyone is fucking up.

    Maybe we should pass a requirement that all high school students must memorize the Bill of Rights. It’s not that long, and I can’t see why anyone who’d vote on this sort of thing would say that it’s a bad idea. Unless, of course, they realize that a generation of young people who understand the law means that they won’t be able to break it any more.

  • The worst part is that it’s a total waste tossing beads at them.

  • eric

    This is the admittedly somewhat steep price we pay for the First Amendment.

    What? This is exactly what the 1st Amendment is for!!! People complaining/arguing against what they see as the wrong behavior of the society around them. Voicing a politically and socially unpopular opinion.

    Like Ed, I’d be fine if they eliminated bullhorns, so long as they did so for everyone. But I really doubt that’s going to happen. I’d probably also be fine if they limited signage to a certain size; (I’m not saying I’ve seen this, its just an illustrative example, but…) its perfectly reasonable to prevent folks from wearing 5-foot-wide placards on a busy public street.

  • eric

    It’s pretty incredible how many lawsuits are popping up nowadays that are unconstitutional, but only because of the 1st Amendment.

    IIRC, historically there were some founders who didn’t think we needed the BOR because the Constitution limits Congress in what it can do. The argument went, anything not mentioned, they can’t do, so we don’t need a list of what they can’t do.

    Its pretty incredible to think just how wrong that attitude is/was. Lesson for future constitution writers: anything you want to prevent the goverment from doing, you had better explicitly say they can’t do. And you probably need to repeat it, several times, with underlining, bold, and giant red arrows pointing to that part of the text. Because even with all that, some folks aren’t going to get it.

  • Chuck

    @Eric:

    This is the admittedly somewhat steep price we pay for the First Amendment.

    What? This is exactly what the 1st Amendment is for!!!

    No, THIS is what the 1st is for:

    but it would be really cool if we could legislate those loud preachy douchebags out of existence without threatening freedoms for the rest of it.

    To put the kibosh on such wishes before they become reality through force of numbers.

  • baal

    Wouldn’t the extra provision also be useable against Occupy?

  • baal “Wouldn’t the extra provision also be useable against Occupy?”

    You don’t need laws to get rid of Occupy. Laws get in the way of getting rid of Occupy. Besides, shooting a protester in the head with a teargas canister from close range is far more fun. It’s like tasering a streaker, but with less run run, zap zap and more guy in a coma. And, if the press should catch wind of it, you just pass them a story about a smattering of Occupiers burning a flag stolen from City Hall or taking a dump on a cop car or simply being rude, and what little heat the apparently liberal media was putting on you conveniently goes away.

  • freemage

    The Lorax@4: I indistinctly recall a satirical column where someone declared that he was starting a movement to defend our 3rd Amendment right against being forced to give housing to soldiers. Just because there’s only one significant case in U.S. jurisprudence history doesn’t mean the bastards aren’t just waiting for us to let our guard down, after all.