Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 23, 2014

7th Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Panhandling Ban in Historic District as Compliant with the First Amendment

Springfield, IL has an ordinance that prohibits pan¬handling in its “downtown historic district”—less than two percent of the city’s area but containing its principal shopping, entertainment, and govern¬mental areas, including the Illinois Statehouse and many state government buildings. The ordinance defines panhandling as an oral request for an immediate donation of money. Signs requesting money are allowed; so are oral pleas to send money later. Springfield evidently views signs and requests for deferred donations as less of an imposition than oral requests for money immediately, which some persons (especially at night or when no one else is nearby) may find threatening. The plaintiffs re¬ceived citations for violating this ordinance and al¬leged that they will continue panhandling but fear liability. The district court denied their request for a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit af¬firmed, rejecting characterization of the ordinance as “content based.” The ordinance is indifferent to the solicitor’s stated reason for seeking money, or whether the requester states any reason at all. And if the panhandler uses a sign, which is less threatening than oral demands (the requester need not approach the target), there is no restriction. Springfield has not meddled with the marketplace of ideas. What activates the prohibition is where a person says something rather than what position a person takes on a political or literary question. Evaluated by the standard for time, place, and manner restrictions Springfield’s ordinance is within the power of state and local government.

Norton v. City of Springfield, 2014 WL 4756402 (7th Cir. (IL) 9/25/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

Editor’s note: This abstract appears in the November 2014 issue of Planning and Environmental Law. See,

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