Anti-Panhandling Policy May Be Unconstitutional

     CHICAGO (CN) – Cook County must face a suit from a man who claims that it maintains an unconstitutional policy against panhandling in downtown Chicago’s Daley Plaza, a federal judge ruled.
     Kim Pindak receives public assistance to pay his monthly room and board. He has no additional income other than a $30 monthly public subsidy and panhandles frequently in downtown Chicago. His usual location is Daley Plaza, a courtyard adjacent to the Richard J. Daley Center that houses many City of Chicago and Cook County offices. In his complaint, Pindak described his panhandling style as polite and in no way aggressive.
     Pindak alleged that law enforcement spoke with him on three occasions about panhandling at Daley Plaza. According to the complaint, officers told him “You can’t beg at all on Daley Plaza. It is illegal.” Another time, Pindak was told that if he did not leave, an officer would “put handcuffs on him.”
     Pindak ultimately filed a section 1983 civil right suit against Cook County and its sheriff, Thomas Dart, arguing that the practice of removing panhandlers from Daley Plaza constitutes a Sheriff’s Department policy that violates the First Amendment.
     The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Pindak lacks standing and that the alleged policy is reasonable.
     U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer denied the defendants’ motion, finding that Pindak has standing to seek relief because he has suffered the threat of prosecution for his actions and has suffered a loss of income based on the County’s policy.
     “Defendants have suggested that Plaintiff’s potential arrest would require an ‘unlikely chain of events,’ but similarly have not asserted that Pindak will not be prosecuted for panhandling,” Pallmeyer said.
     “A person need not risk arrest before bringing a pre-enforcement challenge under the First Amendment,” she continued.
     The court acknowledged that the government may “enforce regulations of the time, place, and manner of expression which are content-neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” The defendants relied on this precedent to defend the alleged policy.
     However, Pallmeyer declined to address the matter without obtaining further information.
     “Whether the alleged policy is a valid time, place, and manner restriction raises factual issues that go well beyond the four corners of plaintiff’s complaint. The complaint provides no information concerning the purposes, goals, and scope of the alleged policy,” the court said.
     Before ruling upon Pindak’s claims, the court requires more information from the defendants about any panhandling policy they enforce in Daley Plaza.
     “If the policy is aimed only at particular types of speech, it may well be deemed content-based and presumptively invalid. If the policy is, instead, content-neutral, the court might still require evidence that the challenged restriction is ‘narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest’ and ‘leave open ample alternative channels of communication,'” Pallmeyer concluded, citing precedent.

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