A U.S. district judge has brought the city of Boise's new anti-solicitation ordinance to a grinding halt on the very day that it was scheduled to go into effect.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled in favor of the ACLU of Idaho in its suit against the city, which enacted new legislation to prohibit solicitation for donations "colored by intimidation, obstruction of right-of-way or repeated attempts at solicitation after a negative response." The anti-panhandling measure came under fire from a number of homeless advocates, but the Boise City Council voted 3-1 in September to support the crackdown, with only Councilwoman Lauren McLean voting no.
"The three members of the City Council who voted in favor of the ordinance are getting exactly what they voted for—a federal lawsuit," said Erika Birch, ACLU of Idaho board member, in November, when her organization filed a 19-page complaint against the city.
And in today's decision, Judge Lodge wrote that the purpose of the ordinance was to "suppress particular speech” and that the case “is not about whether being asked for a donation of money on a sidewalk makes a person feel uncomfortable,” but instead “about whether under our Constitution a person has a First Amendment right to ask for money” in public. “Business owners and residents simply not liking panhandlers in acknowledged public areas does not rise to a significant governmental interest,” the court concluded.
Joining the ACLU of Idaho in the lawsuit was the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
“I don’t know why, when it comes to protecting the rights of those struggling with poverty and homelessness in Boise, it keeps taking a federal court to force city leaders to follow the constitution and laws they swore they’d uphold," said Ritchie Eppink, legal director for the ACLU of Idaho.