BOSTON – Today, the United States Supreme Court vacated a 2013 First Circuit Court ruling that had preliminarily turned aside an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to anti-begging ordinances in Worcester.
The decision clears the way for federal courts in Massachusetts to strike the ordinances down, based on the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which confirmed that laws regulating speech are subject to the strictest scrutiny when they hinge on speech content, as well as last year’s McCullen ruling concerning speech buffer zones.
The following statement may be attributed to Matthew Segal, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts:
“Following Friday’s landmark ruling on marriage equality, this morning the Supreme Court struck a blow for speech equality. By vacating the First Circuit’s ruling on our challenge to Worcester’s anti-begging laws, the Supreme Court has given federal courts in Massachusetts an opportunity to say what the ACLU of Massachusetts and Goodwin Procter LLP have long argued: the First Amendment is for everyone, not just for the wealthy.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert confirms that laws regulating speech are subject to the strictest scrutiny when they hinge on the content of the speech. And the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley holds that buffer zones banning speech are rarely if ever constitutional.
“How, in light of those decisions, can Worcester enforce hundreds or thousands of buffer zones that prohibit begging but do not prohibit other kinds of speech? The answer is that Worcester absolutely cannot do that.”
In May 2013, the ACLU and the firm Goodwin Procter LLP filed suit in federal court in Worcester on behalf of three Worcester residents to block two anti-begging laws enacted by the City of Worcester, claiming the laws are unconstitutional and violate the right to peacefully solicit donations in public and to engage the public in political and other speech. In November 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit granted an injunction against part of the ordinance. Judges ruled that the ordinance’s ban on “soliciting any person in public after dark, which shall mean the time from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunrise” could not be enforced, but did not strike the measure down.
The ACLU has also challenged Lowell’s anti-begging ordinance.
For more information about Thayer v. City of Worcester, go to:
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