FREE SPEECH -- The Pasadena City Council wants to ban handbills left on residential property where a "No Handbills" or "No Solicitors" sign is posted, the resident's permission has not been obtained and the handbill is not weighted to prevent wind-littering.
According to Pasadena Weekly, the council's main concern seems to be enforceability or priority for city attention rather than the fact that a similar Pasadena ordinance ten years ago prompted a lawsuit that produced a court order barring enforcement on First Amendment grounds. The only suggestion that the Bill of Rights might still be an issue came from civil liberties watchdogs.
Once again, [American revolutionary] Thomas Paine is turning at
about 78 rpm in his grave, wrote David Fertig, the lawyer who
represented the ACLU in the 1998 lawsuit, in an email. This proposal
for an anti-handbill ordinance, ostensibly predicated upon deterrence
of littering and burglary, is baffling. Who knew we had no more
pressing and important issues in Pasadena than those occasional
leaflets on our front steps? Or that Pasadena wants to be in the
vanguard of stifling free speech?
To one of the activists
joining the ACLU of Southern California as a plaintiff back in 1998,
learning that the matter had come up again in amended form for possible
action by the council came as a shock. Marvin Schachter, a former
president of the ACLU of Southern Californias board of directors, said
its reprehensible that the council is restricting a fundamental right
the right of people to communicate with one another without
permission, said Schachter. Especially now, when financial resources
are so scarce, an independent candidate could find themselves in
violation of the law.
is the city doing this when it is a matter according to testimony at
the City Council of absolutely no concern to any citizen, except for
once a month, when a person doesnt want a piece of information
delivered to them? Schachter asked.
What we dont need in Pasadena are yet more silly laws and more litigation, said Fertig. Actually
we just need some Common
Sense in City Hall, he said, referring to Paines most famous
work. Maybe I'll leave a copy on the front steps while its still
As long ago as 1971 the California Supreme Court struck down, on free speech grounds, a city ordinance banning such distribution without the resident's prior consent.
-- Van Nuys Publishing Co. v. City of Thousand Oaks, 5 Cal. 3d 817, 824 (emphasis added)