Judge enjoins new anti-begging law as unconstitutional | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Judge enjoins new anti-begging law as unconstitutional

Posted By on Wed, Sep 27, 2017 at 9:19 AM

PANHANDLING: Efforts to stop such solicitations led to Judge Wilson's ruling. - KARK
  • KARK
  • PANHANDLING: Efforts to stop such solicitations led to Judge Wilson's ruling.
Another win for the ACLU. A federal judge has blocked a new law aimed at restricting panhandling. The law was enjoined on the ground that it infringed on First Amendment speech rights.

According to an ACLU of Arkansas news release:

In the ruling, Judge Billy Roy Wilson called the law “plainly unconstitutional” and said that the state had failed to “satisfy the rigorous constitutional standards that apply when government attempts to regulate expression based on its content.”

“This ruling is a victory for all Arkansans who value their First Amendment rights,” said ACLU of Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar. “Being poor is not a crime, and asking for help shouldn’t land you in jail. The ACLU of Arkansas will continue to defend the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, especially on behalf of vulnerable people to whom its protections are too often denied.” 
The ACLU sued on behalf of two Arkansas residents, Michael Rogers and Glynn Dilbeck, who feared arrest as they had been arrested before for soliciting money. The law bans standing or remaining “for the purpose of asking for anything as a charity or a gift” in “an aggressive or threatening manner.”

The ACLU said the law was overly broad and poorly defined. Courts have ruled the First Amendment doesn't allow speech restrictions based on content of the message.

The ACLU successfully challenged the old state law in 2016. The 2017 legislature tried again to effectively outlaw begging.

Here's the judge's order.

It resonates in the context of far more than an Arkansas anti-begging statute. Wilson wrote:

In the abstract, all of us love the First Amendment; but not so much when someone
makes a statement that we consider obnoxious. Yet the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular views, written or spoken. Our Founders realized full well that the rights protected by the Bill of Rights are antimajoritarian – they were keenly aware of the persecution of minorities by the impassioned majority after the then-recent French Revolution
The attorney general defended the statute and said the plaintiffs had no standing because the law didn't prevent begging as they do on roadways unless they harass or threaten. Said Wilson:

I have no doubt that holding a sign asking for gifts or charity could “create a traffic hazard or impediment.” For example, Mr. Dilbeck testified that there have been times when a car in a line of traffic would slow down to give him something. And, to a lesser-degree of
certainty, that it is possible that holding a sign asking for gifts or charity might cause others to feel threatened, harassed, or alarmed.  begging in Arkansas when he passes through to visit his daughter in Missouri. In fact, he testified he would have even begged on the day of the hearing, but did not out of fear of being cited under Section 5-71-213(a)(3). Mr. Rodgers testified that he continues to beg, but hides his sign from the police and avoids certain areas to keep from being cited under Section 5-71- 213(a)(3). This chilling effect is the actual injury that gives Plaintiffs standing.
Will the state appeal? A statement from Rutledge's office:

"The Attorney General respectfully disagrees with the District Court's decision and is considering her options."

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