BOSTON – The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts will consider today a motion for summary judgment in an American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts challenge to a Lowell ordinance that prohibits charitable requests both in Lowell’s Downtown Historic District and in numerous 20-foot buffer zones throughout the city. Kevin Martin, a partner at Goodwin Procter LLP who is litigating the case for the ACLU of Massachusetts, will argue the motion.
WHAT: Arguments in McLaughlin v. Lowell, challenge to Lowell’s panhandling ban
WHEN: Wednesday, October 7
WHERE: Moakley Courthouse, Courtroom 1
WHO: Kevin Martin of Goodwin Procter LLP presents arguments before Judge Douglas P. Woodlock
In February 2014, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a First Amendment suit in federal court on behalf of Lowell residents Kenneth McLaughlin and Joshua Wood, to block an anti-panhandling ordinance enacted by the City of Lowell (Lowell Code of Ordinances Chapter 222, § 222.15).
The ordinance prohibits panhandling in the entire downtown historic district, as well as within 20 feet of various locations throughout the city, including bus stops and restaurants.
The plaintiffs claim the ordinance violates their constitutional right to peacefully solicit donations in public.
The ACLU argues that the ordinance is unconstitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in McCullen v. Coakley, which invalidated a Massachusetts law creating buffer zones around reproductive health clinics, and Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which invalidated an Arizona sign code because it regulated signs differently depending on what they said.
Here, the ACLU argues that the Lowell ordinance impermissibly excludes one, but only one, type of speech.
“Poor people in Lowell, and unfortunately all over America, are being told that asking for money is not ‘really’ speech that deserves the same protection as other words spoken by wealthier people. Yet a request for charity is speech, nothing less and nothing more,” said Matthew Segal, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.
He continued: “The First Amendment protects rich and poor alike. Courts have ruled that free speech protects wealthy people who wish to spend money to express their ideas, and we must ensure that the same protection reaches poor people who wish to use actual words to express themselves.”
“Decisions from the Supreme Court and courts across the country have made it increasingly clear that there is no space in our democracy for laws criminalizing peaceful requests for charity in public places,” said Kevin Martin of Goodwin Procter LLP. “We hope that a decision for plaintiffs in this case will dissuade other cities considering adopting such laws from doing so.”
In June 2015, an order from the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the First Circuit’s unfavorable ruling on the ACLU’s challenge to two anti-panhandling ordinances in Worcester, and a new First Circuit decision in September struck down an anti-panhandling measure in Portland, Maine.
For more information about the case, McLaughlin v. Lowell (formerly Copley v. Lowell), go to:
For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to: