LOS ANGELES The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a preliminary injunction that stops the City of Los Angeles from enforcing its unconstitutional "aggressive solicitation" ban. When the city passed the ordinance, Municipal Code ﾌ_ 41.59, in July 1997, the ACLU of Southern California filed suit challenging the ordinance on First Amendment grounds; a preliminary injunction was granted, and the city appealed.
"This order is the handwriting on the wall for the city," said ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Peter Eliasberg, "It's a clear signal that the court sees this ordinance as unconstitutional. It's time for the city to put this issue behind it and strike this ordinance."
The ordinance defines "aggressive solicitation" so broadly that simply making a request for assistance a second time when someone has indicated no desire to be solicited would be prohibited. It also bans any type of solicitation in certain areas: near an ATM machine, near public transit stops, or on public transit vehicles, for example. It is written so broadly that it could be applied to solicitors from the Salvation Army, Greenpeace, or the Busriders Union -- all of whom solicit public support in the public areas this ordinance marks as off-limits, and it also empowers numerous public, private, and quasi-public officials to determine whether or not free speech will be permitted, without offering any guidance about how those decisions should be made.
"This ordinance and others like it are a gag order on the most needy," said Eliasberg. "Essentially it says, 'You can talk about the weather to anyone, whether or not they want to listen -- but don't tell someone twice that you're hungry.' That's a callous and capricious restriction, one that may serve the comfort and convenience of those who are better off, but is completely inconsistent with our Constitutional rights."
"The First Amendment is for everybody," said Eliasberg, "rich or poor."