FREE SPEECH -- In reactiion to a recent appearance before it by a black man in Ku Klux Klan garb, "the L.A. City Council has approved tough gagging rules to keep members of an apparently disorderly public from speaking too much of what's on their minds," reports Patrick Range McDonald in LA Weekly.
unanimously approved action came yesterday at an L.A. City Council
meeting. Speakers will not be warned of their inappropriate behavior or
remarks--whatever "inappropriate" may mean--before they're kicked out
of City Council chambers. Once given the heave-ho, a person will also
be banned from the chambers for up to 30 council-meeting days.
Sounds like a recipe for self-censorship, thus essentially gagging speakers before they even say anything.
The person who decides what's appropriate or not is the City Council
President, who, right now, happens to be Eric Garcetti, a sometime
foe of gadfly extraordinaire Zuma Dogg, who's already jumping on the issue.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times,
Under the strengthened policy, which was approved without debate,
the president will no longer have to warn speakers deemed unruly and
disruptive before kicking them out. Violations will also ban the
speakers from appearing in the chamber for up to 30 council-meeting
Taking cues from more stringent policies adopted by the Los
Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the council expanded the scope of
unacceptable actions to include disorderly, contemptuous or insolent
behavior toward council members and boisterous conduct that disrupts
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has dealt with a challenge to such broad language as follows.
focus particularly on the proscription against "personal, impertinent,
slanderous or profane remarks." They argue that such imprecise and
content-oriented terms render the ordinance fatally vague and
overbroad, under well-recognized first amendment doctrine. . .
City, however, offers a construction of the ordinance that is far
narrower than that of plaintiffs. The City asserts that, properly
construed, the ordinance does not permit discipline, removal or
punishment of a person who merely utters a "personal, impertinent,
slanderous or profane" remark. That provision is qualified, the City
states, by the next sentence of the ordinance, which authorizes removal
of any person:
makes such remarks, or who utters loud, threatening, personal or
abusive language, or engages in any other disorderly conduct which
disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of the
Mun.Code Sec. 2-1.1(b)(3) (emphasis added). Thus, the City asserts that
removal can only be ordered when someone making a proscribed remark is
acting in a way that actually disturbs or impedes the meeting. The same
threshold is required, according to the City's reading of the
ordinance, for warning and removal under section 2-1.1(d)(1) and for
prosecution under section 2-1.1(d)(4).
ordinance can certainly be read in other ways, but we conclude that it
is readily susceptible to the City's interpretation. We therefore adopt
the City's narrower construction.
White v. City of Norwalk, 900 F.2d 1421 (1990) The element of the new policy vulnerable under both the First Amendment and the Brown Actone which has been in force yet unchallenged for years at L.A. Board of Supervisors meetingsis the temporary banishment from future council meetings. This is punishment for speech or expressive conduct without due process. It is one thing to authorize a presiding officer to have someone ousted from a meeting for the sake of good order and civilzed attention to the public's business. It is quite another to deny the offender his or her statutory rights for a penalty period of exile from a public forum.