Residents of Detroit Suburb Fight Anti-Canvassing Law

(CN) – Political activists filed a First Amendment lawsuit Monday challenging “No Canvassing” signs in a Detroit suburb.

Michigan Liberation, a nonprofit organization seeking “to end mass incarceration,” and three individual plaintiffs sued the city of Wixom and the Loon Lake Woods Wixom Homeowners’ Association.

Attorneys Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio and Michael Steinberg of the American Civil Liberties Fund of Michigan filed the lawsuit, along with cooperating attorneys Heather and Sheila Cummings of Royal Oak, Michigan.

They want a federal judge in the Eastern District of Michigan to block a Wixom ordinance that bars canvassing in neighborhoods that have “No Canvassing” signs at their entrances. They also want a declaration that the ordinance violates their free-speech rights.

“The ordinance is a content-based restriction on speech, it is not narrowly tailored to a compelling or important government interest, and it does not leave open ample, adequate means of communication,” the plaintiffs say in their lawsuit.

Plaintiff Nicholas Spagnuolo claimed the signs prevented him from canvassing in certain neighborhoods during the November 2018 election.

He was canvassing in support of Democratic candidates and Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering. When he entered the Lake Loon Woods neighborhood a resident threatened to call the police, the lawsuit says.

Spagnuolo was also kicked out of The Highgate on the Green neighborhood for the same reason, the plaintiffs say.

Michigan Liberation and Spagnuolo claim they want to canvass for a special election on May 7 but cannot “unless this court enjoins the unconstitutional provisions of the ordinance.”

Two other plaintiffs, Loon Lake Woods residents Gary Ackland and Julia Long-Ackland, “want to engage with, and receive information from, canvassers.”

They say they have not decided on the school bond issue and also would like information on the 2020 presidential candidates.

“The decision to prohibit canvassers and canvassing from the entire neighborhood of Loon Lake Woods was made by the board of the defendant homeowners association without a vote of the membership,” the plaintiffs say in their lawsuit.

The Acklands say when they spoke to the homeowners’ association president and City Council about the issue, “their concerns were ignored.”

Michigan Liberation says its members knocked on 2,500 doors in Wixom during the 2018 midterm campaign and spent about 100 hours talking to residents about criminal justice reform.

Wixom City Council considered amending the ordinance to prevent neighborhood associations from banning canvassing, but in the end voted it down according to the plaintiffs.

City officials did not respond to an email request for comment by press time.

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