Apparently implementing its own plan to create new jobs, the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 9-2 that your right to stand by roads holding signs asking for jobs is protected by the First Amendment.
It all started in May 1987, when Redondo Beach, California adopted an ordinance making it illegal for persons standing on streets, highways, sidewalks or alleys from soliciting drivers and passengers of vehicles for employment, business or contributions. The ordinance also made it illegal for drivers to “stop, park or stand” their vehicle in order to hire or negotiate with the curbside jobseekers.
According to a memo from its city attorney, Redondo Beach created the anti-street solicitation ordinance in reaction to traffic congestion, hazards and other “difficulties” resulting from the gathering of large numbers of day laborers – many of them migrant workers – at major intersections seeking work or contributions from motorists.
In 2004, two groups representing day laborers, the Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach (Comite) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance’s constitutionality.
In defending its ordinance before the District Court of Central California, a Redondo Beach’s police officer testified that the day laborers had not only caused traffic hazards, but had committed “acts of vandalism, litter, [and] urinate near the businesses” in the areas near the affected intersections.
The District Court sided with the day labors groups, finding that Redondo Beach’s ordinance unconstitutionally restricted the day laborers’ and “other persons’” First Amendment rights of free speech.
Redondo Beach appealed the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the District Court’s decision finding the ordinance unconstitutional.
In its 9-2 decision, the Court of Appeals stated that the ordinance failed to meet the “time, place, and manner of expression” First Amendment standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under the “time, place, and manner of expression” standard, the government is allowed create regulations limiting speech only if those regulations address a specific “significant government interest” and provide for “ample alternative channels of communication.”
According to the Court of Appeals, the goal of the Redondo Beach ordinance – traffic control – could have been achieved by enforcing existing traffic laws and regulations without restricting freedom of speech.
“Because the Ordinance does not constitute a reasonable regulation of the time, place, or manner of speaking, it is facially unconstitutional,” wrote the Court of Appeals in its decision.
Latino Rights Group Cheers Ruling: The 9th District Court’s decision was praised by the Latino legal civil rights organization MALDEF as setting strong precedent on the rights of day laborers.
“Today’s en banc (full court) Ninth Circuit opinion resoundingly vindicates the First Amendment rights of day laborers throughout the western United States,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals. “The dozens of similar ordinances throughout the region that purport to prevent day laborers from speaking on sidewalks are now even more plainly violative of the Constitution.
Saenz called on cities with similar ordinances to repeal them immediately. “The longstanding principle that the right of free speech belongs to everyone has been significantly bolstered by this decision,” he said.
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