Springfield Panhandling Ban Upheld by 7th Circ.

     CHICAGO (CN) – A ban on panhandling in the downtown historic district of Springfield, Ill., does not violate free speech, the 7th Circuit said, widening a circuit split.
     Springfield’s downtown historic district is a major shopping and entertainment destination, as well as the center for state government buildings.
     While the city permits signs requesting money, as well as oral requests for a future donation, it has a ban against immediate requests for money.
     Don Norton and Karen Otterson filed suit for an injunction under the First Amendment, claiming that they received tickets for panhandling in violation of their free-speech rights.
     The 9th, 6th and 4th Circuits have invalidated similar ordinances on free speech grounds, but the D.C. Circuit and 1st Circuit have ruled that anti-panhandling laws are content-neutral and valid.
     Panhandling laws have similarly divided the Supreme Court’s justices, but there is no high court decision that addresses panhandling in a traditionally public forum such as a public street.
     The 7th Circuit found Springfield’s ordinance content-neutral, 2-1, on Thursday, widening a circuit split.
     “Justice Kennedy concluded in [International Society for Krishna Consciousness v.] Lee that an airport should be treated the same as a city street and that restricting panhandling is permissible in both settings,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the majority. “What made the regulation permissible, he concluded, was that it had been narrowly tailored so that it dealt only with potentially threatening (or advantage-taking) confrontations.” (Parentheses in original.)
     It is still possible to ask for money anywhere else in Springfield, or 98 percent of the city, the ruling notes.
     “We do not profess certainty about our conclusion that the ordinance is content-neutral,” Easterbrook wrote. “But this was Justice Kennedy’s understanding in Lee. Evaluated by the standard for time, place, and manner restrictions Springfield’s ordinance is within the power of state and local government.”
     Judge Daniel Manion said in dissent that the majority’s conclusion is “alien to our First Amendment jurisprudence,” and misapplies Supreme Court precedent.
     There is no doubt the ordinance is content-dependent because a police officer seeking to enforce the law must listen to what the speaker is saying to determine whether a violation occurred, the dissent argued.
     “First, the officer must determine whether the speech is a request for money or other gratuity (potentially a violation) or merely a request for the listener’s time, signature, or labor (not a violation),” Manion wrote (parentheses in original). “Second, the officer must determine whether the speech is a request for an immediate transfer of money (potentially a violation) or merely a request for the transfer of money at a future date (not a violation). Third, the officer must determine whether the speech is a request for a charitable donation (potentially a violation) or merely a request for a commercial transaction (not a violation). The officer cannot answer any of these questions without listening to and understanding what the speaker is saying. That is precisely the sort of situation that the Supreme Court said involves a content-based regulation.”
     Panhandlers in Chicago who challenged a similar ordinance, prohibiting panhandling on the Magnificent Mile, settled with the city in 2012 for $750 each.

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