FAN 190 (First Amendment News) Seattle U. Law School’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project Issues Report on Begging Restrictions in Washington State
An important new report has just been released by Seattle University Law School’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project. The 105-page report is titled Begging for Change: Begging Retsrictions Throughout Washington.
The report was prepared by:
The Homeless Rights Advocacy Project researched the laws of sixty-four cities across Washington State and found 121 ordinances that prohibit or restrict begging. An overwhelming number of these ordinances punish begging as a misdemeanor, inflicting on already vulnerable people ongoing and escalating collateral consequences.
The act of panhandling, commonly known as begging, is a constitutionally protected form of speech. But Washington’s cities are increasingly enacting ordinances that criminalizebegging. The consequences of criminalizing begging are severe and include violations of First Amendment and due process rights. Indeed, these ordinances often outlaw peaceful and nonintrusive behavior protected by the First Amendment. Some advocates assert that since 2015, “100% of federal court cases have ruled bans/restrictions [on begging] are unconstitutional.”
Further, these laws do not contribute to a solution for homelessness; instead, they function to remove visible poverty and homelessness from sight. Due to the nature and penalties of these anti-begging ordinances, the debtor’s prison grows, and the cycle of homelessness continues.
Key findings include:
- The vast majority of Washington cities punish begging: 86% of surveyed cities have at least one law criminalizing begging in their municipal codes.
- 83% of these laws result in a misdemeanor if violated. Criminal convictions exacerbate homelessness.8
- Begging restrictions are proliferating: approximately 2/3 of all begging ordinances were enacted after 2001.
- Washington’s second most popular laws are “aggressive” begging restrictions.
- In the 1990s, courts began invalidating prohibitions on peaceful begging asunconstitutional restrictions on free speech. Many cities tried to circumvent this outcome by incorporating non-aggressive conduct into their so-called “aggressive begging” laws.
- Only 2% of aggressive begging ordinances turn on the specific, objectively aggressive conduct of the person begging.
- For the vast majority— 98% of aggressive begging laws—a violation can occurbased solely on a bystander’s subjective perception.
- If a bystander feels fearful or even feels compelled to give, such feelings may be enough to make begging criminal regardless of whether the person begging has done anything objectively aggressive.
- 42% of all aggressive begging ordinances rely exclusively on a bystander’ssubjective perception.
- This reliance on whether a witness “subjectively” feels fear is highly problematic in light of well-established science proving people tend to feel fear simply when viewing a homeless person regardless of that person’s conduct
LSU’s Sexual Harassment Policy Challenged in Fifth Circuit
The case is Buchanan v. Alexander (No. 18-30148, 5th Cir.), which was summarily dismissed by the District Court. The matter is now before the federal circuit court. As framed by counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant, “[t]his appeal will require the Court to interpret the law establishing limitations on a public university’s ability to terminate a tenured professor for engaging in academic speech that purportedly conflicts with anti-sexual harassment policies.”
→ Fired LSU Professor Files First Amendment Lawsuit Challenging Speech Code Championed by Feds, FIRE, Jan. 21, 2016 (Note: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is sponsoring Buchanan’s lawsuit, which is part of its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.)
On appeal, the Plaintiff-Appellant makes the following arguments:
I. Standard of Review
II. LSU’S Sexual Harassment Policy is Facially Unconstitutional
A. The First Amendment Requires Sexual Harassment Policies Targeting Speech to Be Narrowly-Framed, Precisely Defined, and Limited to Severe, Pervasive, and Objectively Offensive Behavior
- The Government Cannot Restrict Speech Merely to Avoid Offense, and Any Regulation of Speech Must Be Narrowly Focused and Clearly Defined
- Anti-Harassment Policies Are Subject to First Amendment Limits
B. The District Court Applied the Wrong Standard of Review
C. LSU’s Policy Fails to Satisfy Constitutional Scrutiny
II. LSU’S Sexual Harassment Policy was Unconstitutionally Applied to Professor Buchanan
A. Professor Buchanan’s Speech is Constitutionally Protected
1. Academic Freedom is of “Transcendent Value”
2. The District Court Erroneously Held Dr. Buchanan’s Academic Speech Was Unprotected
a. The Undisputed Record Established That Dr. Buchanan Advanced Pedagogical Reasons for Her Speech
b. The District Court Misread the Law to Support Its Distorted View of the Record
B. LSU’s Poorly-Defined Policy and Haphazard Approach Allowed Anything to Be Defined as “Sexual
C. LSU’s Termination of Buchanan Violated the First Amendment
IV. Appellees Cannot Avoid Personal Liability
→ Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
U. Michigan Harassment Code Challenged Read More