Texas Law Tramples on Free Speech Rights

     HOUSTON (CN) – The state law under which a Texas city cracked down on day laborers soliciting work on the streets tramples free speech rights, a federal judge found.
     The Jornaleros de Las Palmas sued League City over its enforcement of a section of the Texas Transportation Code that the group says violates the First and 14th Amendments. The code allows for solicitation of charitable contributions but makes it illegal to solicit employment on roadways.
     The unincorporated association of Latino day laborers also sued Police Chief Michael Jez, the official who issued a special order in 2009 calling for officers to monitor common sites where laborers gathered to find work.
     The workers complained that the League City police department relied on the unconstitutional section of the Texas Transportation Code as it increasingly issued citations and made arrests for solicitation.
     Current Police Chief Michael Kramm has since taken Jez’s place as a defendant in the lawsuit. The court previously granted dismissal of Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a defendant.
     Though the city claimed that traffic safety concerns led to the day labor solicitation crackdown, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith rejected the assertion.
     “The defendants have not shown the statute to be narrowly tailored to achieve the stated goal of promoting traffic safety and control,” Smith wrote in his summary of findings. “For example, the law incorporates exceptions for certain types of roadway solicitation, which presumably pose an equal risk to public safety; it applies to all roadways, paved or not, and at all intersections, regardless of traffic flow; and it applies to vehicles lawfully parked on the side of the road, as well as to vehicles passing on the street without slowing down.
     “The defendants have provided no credible evidence that day laborer solicitation ever caused any traffic accident in League City.
     “Finally, the defendants have not shown why other traffic laws which do not target speech are inadequate to serve the public’s legitimate interest in traffic safety and control.”
     Smith concluded that the statute is facially overbroad and violates the First Amendment.
     The judge further determined that while the city’s police officers went too far by specifically targeting day laborers over other solicitors, there was no indication of intentional racial and national origin discrimination.
     “The court concludes that League City day laborers were not targeted based on who they were, but on what they did – that is, exercise their right to free speech,” Smith wrote, rejecting the workers’ 14th Amendment claim.
     Smith gave the workers 21 days to submit a proposed final judgment for declaratory relief, as well as permanent injunctive relief, which he says “would serve the public interest by helping to restore faith and confidence in the justice system by all residents of League City.”

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