Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee v. County of Sacramento
On May 13, 2014, the County of Sacramento adopted an ordinance prohibiting what it calls “aggressive and intrusive solicitation.” The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the Law Office of Mark E. Merin have sued to stop enforcement of this new law because it broadly and over-inclusively prohibits free speech, in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Ordinance makes it a crime to panhandle but exempts soliciting donations for charitable purposes. Specifically, it prohibits only panhandling at such locations as: within 35 feet of any entrance to or exit from any financial institution or automated teller machine (“ATM”), from a vehicle occupant within 200 feet of an intersection, on any median strip, from a vehicle occupant within 35 feet of a driveway providing access to shopping centers, retail, or business establishments, in any public transportation vehicle or within 50 feet of any public transportation vehicle stop, at any motor vehicle occupant stopped at a gasoline station or pump.
The Ordinance is invalid because it singles speech out for restrictions when the speaker’s message is to ask for financial assistance for themselves, but not if they are asking for a charitable contribution or for someone to stop and sign a petition. This abridges the First Amendment rights of persons who seek to solicit for donations for their own needs within the County of Sacramento and criminalizes the poor.
The County responded to our suit by amending the ordinance to repeal the exemption for charitable solicitors. The case has now settled. In addition to the repeal, the settlement provides that the County will provide notice to panhandlers of service providers who have agreed to be responsive, and to pay damages to the plaintiff and attorneys’ fees.