Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day Laborers and Free Speech

Efforts to regulate the activities of day laborers, who solicit work in public places, have raised some interesting equal protection and free speech issues.  Efforts to displace day laborers lie at the intersection of free speech and immigration concerns. 

The Ninth Circuit has just upheld a Redondo Beach, California ordinance that limits such solicitation.  In a 60-page decision, the court held that Redondo Beach Municipal Code § 3-7.1601, which prohibits the act of standing on a street or highway and soliciting employment, business, or contributions from the occupants of an automobile, is a valid time, place and manner regulation.

The court concluded that solicitation, which in this case consisted of leaving a public sidewalk to approach a car stopped on a public street, was expressive.  However, it held that the ordinance was content-neutral and deferred to the city's stated interests in ensuring the flow of traffic and public safety.   The court also concluded that the ordinance was narrowly tailored and left open ample and adequate alternative channels of communication because it "permits persons to solicit 'business,employment, or contributions' from people on sidewalks or in similar public forums within Redondo Beach, so long as the act does not take place when the target of the solicitation is actually driving in the street."

Judge Warlaw dissented on the ground that the Redondo Beach ordinance was an overbroad restriction on expressive activity in a traditional public forum.  The opinion offers a strong defense of the act of solicitation and the traditional public forum.  Judge Wardlaw concluded: 
The majority tramples upon the right of free speech in the most traditional of public fora. It erroneously relies upon precedent involving an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of an aspirationally similar statute and contorts the actual words of the Redondo Beach Ordinance beyond recognition. The district court got it right: The Redondo Beach Ordinance is an unconstitutional regulation of speech; it is not narrowly tailored to meet Redondo Beach’s asserted governmental interests; and it fails to leave open alternative avenues for the
day laborers’ expression.

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