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Federal Court Strikes Down Grand Junction Panhandling Ordinance

October 1, 2015

DENVER – Federal District Court Judge Christine Arguello issued a 39-page decision yesterday striking down Grand Junction’s panhandling ordinance, ruling that it violates the First Amendment rights of persons who wish to solicit charity in public places.

Wednesday’s ruling expands on an earlier order in the case, issued in June, which held that the ordinance regulated speech on the basis of its content. That ruling required Grand Junction to meet the strictest standard of judicial scrutiny. In Wednesday’s decision, the Court explained that Grand Junction had failed to justify its regulation of expression.

“The ruling striking down Grand Junction’s panhandling ordinance will have ramifications throughout Colorado,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “The reasoning of this decision, along with Supreme Court rulings earlier in the summer, signify that almost every panhandling ordinance in Colorado must be repealed or seriously amended.”

The ACLU of Colorado has initiated discussions with city attorneys in Denver and Colorado Springs about the need for repeal or for major revisions of their panhandling regulations. Police in Colorado Springs were recently ordered to stop enforcing most provisions of the city’s two panhandling ordinances.

Grand Junction adopted its ordinance in the spring of 2014, and the ACLU of Colorado filed its legal challenge before the ordinance went into effect. The challenged provisions made it a crime to ask for charity after sunset or within 20 feet of an ATM or a bus stop. Other challenged provisions prohibited asking for donations from people standing in line or seated at an outdoor café. The Court ruled that Grand Junction had failed to support its contention that the regulations were necessary to protect public safety.

Dozens of Colorado cities enforce similar regulations that prohibit asking for charity in certain public locations, at certain times, or in specified situations. The ACLU of Colorado encourages all Colorado city attorneys to immediately review the Grand Junction ruling and consider whether their panhandling ordinances must be repealed or amended.

“The ACLU does not object to carefully tailored regulations that target coercive, threatening, or menacing solicitations that actually invade the rights of others,” Silverstein said. “But we oppose, and the First Amendment prohibits, broad regulations that outlaw peaceful, polite, and nonthreatening requests for assistance.”

Along with Silverstein, clients in the case were represented by ACLU of Colorado staff attorneys Rebecca T. Wallace and Sara Neel.

Resources:
View the court decision: http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Browne-v.-Grand-Junction.Order-on-cross-motions-for-s-j.09-30-15.pdf

Visit the ACLU case page: https://aclu-co.org/court-cases/3757-2/

Visit the Criminalization of Homelessness Campaign Page: https://aclu-co.org/campaigns/criminalization-homelessness/



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