Federal Judge Knocks Out Arizona City’s Anti-Panhandling Law

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A federal judge has thrown out an Arizona city’s law criminalizing panhandling, ruling it unconstitutional.

 

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake said Flagstaff’s ordinance restricted free expression, and should no longer be enforced.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the city on behalf of several plaintiffs, including Marlene Baldwin, a 77-year-old disabled Hopi woman who was arrested for panhandling.

 

Baldwin was arrested in February and later released after begging for $1.25 for bus fare from an undercover police officer.

 

“Flagstaff officials ignored the fact that constitutional protections for speech do not depend on public approval of the views expressed,” Dan Pochoda, ACLU of Arizona’s legal director, said in a statement. “Flagstaff will no longer be allowed to elevate the interests of local business owners above the rights of persons seeking a dollar for food.”

 

More than 130 people were arrested in the past year alone for violating the ordinance, according to the lawsuit.

 

Political support for the law has waned. In late September, the Flagstaff City Council voted unanimously to stop enforcing the statute, and agreed to settle the lawsuit, Courthouse News Service reported.

 

The judge’s ruling could have “wide-ranging ramifications” for other cities with similar laws, including Dallas, Texas, and Portland, Maine, according to Rick Cohen at Nonprofit Quarterly.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

Arizona Pandhandling Law Unconstitutional (by Jamie Ross, Courthouse News Service)

Cities Attack Panhandling, Compromise Free Speech Rights (by Rick Cohen, Nonprofit Quarterly)

Marlene Baldwin v. Michelle D’Andrea (U.S. District Court, Arizona) (pdf)

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