(CN) – The 9th Circuit struck down a Seattle ordinance that gives the police chief the “unbridled discretion” to force parade participants and protesters to use sidewalks instead of city streets.
The court said the ordinance unconstitutionally gives the police chief a power that’s “unchecked by any requirement to explain the reasons for doing so or to provide some forum for appealing the chief’s decision.”
The ruling is a victory for the Seattle affiliate of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, which said the ordinance violated its First Amendment rights.
Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske issued the coalition a parade permit that instructed the group to “use the sidewalks and obey traffic control signals.”
The coalition claimed the city was more likely to bump political and protest marches from the streets than other parades.
Judge Fisher acknowledged that the ordinance left the door wide open for viewpoint discrimination.
“The danger of abuse is acutely presented in this case,” Fisher wrote, “where the speech the coalition seeks to engage in – protesting police brutality – is directly critical of the governmental body that administers Seattle’s permit scheme.”
The court reversed summary judgment for Seattle.
“The First Amendment prohibits placing such unfettered discretion in the hands of licensing officials and renders the Parade Ordinance constitutionally defective on its face.”
Judge Ikuta dissented, saying the ordinance doesn’t give the chief undue powers.
“Seattle’s routine effort to coordinate parade activities with public safety concerns is a garden-variety, content-neutral time, place and manner restriction.”