By Holly Sutherland, University of Idaho Legal Extern
The ACLU of Idaho is challenging the City of Boise’s newly enacted Public Solicitation Ordinance going into effect on January 2, 2014 because the Ordinance criminalizes many types of speech protected by the First Amendment. After the ordinance was first proposed by the City, the ACLU actively campaigned to notify the public of the content and implications of the Ordinance so that individuals could weigh in on the debate. The ACLU testified about the ordinance’s likely unconstitutionality during the City Council’s public hearing held on July 30, 2013. Many people from throughout the area attended the hearing and voiced their opinions about the detrimental impact the passage of the ordinance would have on them and other less fortunate members of the community.
The ACLU of Idaho also organized a Know Your Rights training during the Hyde Park Street Fair focused on the detrimental and over-inclusive impact the ordinance will have on First Amendment free speech protections. The training was not limited to the problems of the ordinance, but was also focused on solutions to the problems of homelessness in the community. The City already has a 10 Year Plan to combat homelessness, but the Plan is in its fifth year, and yet the City seems to have almost completely ignored it. The ACLU has urged the City Council to take immediate steps to fully implement the Plan, but the City chose instead to take the more intrusive route of interfering with civil liberties. Additionally, the ACLU organized a rally on September 17, 2013, the day the Ordinance passed by a 3 to 1 vote by the City Council. Protesters, led by the ACLU, made their voices heard but the City forged ahead anyway.
After receiving many complaints from concerned citizens and those likely to be affected by the ordinance, the ACLU decided to file a lawsuit against the City of Boise to enjoin the City from enforcing the ordinance when it takes effect. Because the ordinance criminalizes only speech that asks for immediate donations of money or other things of value, the ordinance effectively regulates speech based on the content of the speaker’s message. Governmental regulation based on the content of one’s speech survives constitutional scrutiny only if it is narrowly drawn to address a compelling government purpose. This ordinance does not survive that test. Not only does the ordinance ban all forms of oral solicitation for money in many traditional public forums, its language also criminalizes asking for other things of value like ballot signatures or membership sign-ups. Additionally, the language of the ordinance is so broad as to criminalize asking a friend for change for the parking pay box when attending a social luncheon. While this type of “solicitation” will likely not be the focus of enforcement, the ordinance allows for broad discretion by officers leading to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. This is not right and the ACLU is standing up for the civil liberties of all individuals in Federal District Court.