SLIDELL — A St. Tammany Parish city that recently promised
a judge it wouldn't enforce its allegedly unconstitutional
panhandling-permit law should have expected a challenge, a Loyola
University law professor and an attorney said in recent separate
"Slidell knew full well this would be
challenged," William P. Quigley, law professor and director of
the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola
University, said during a Louisiana Record email interview.
"Their lawyers probably also advised them that they would stand
a significant chance of losing as have most of the others across the
nation. The First Amendment is a powerful shield to stop government."
The city did the right thing when they decided to stop enforcing
the law before they were compelled to in the lawsuit
filed against them by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana,
Gretna-based attorney and former police officer Peter Russell told the Louisiana Record.
"The city should exercise more restraint because this
obviously treads on peoples' rights to free speech," Russell said.
The case also has placed him in an odd position, Russell said.
"One thing I want you to make very clear is that I'm not a
supporter of the ACLU," he said. "In many of their
activities, I see them as a political animal, they have an agenda.
It's just that in this case, I agree with them."
ACLU of Louisiana filed its complaint Dec. 19 in Louisiana's Eastern
District on behalf of Gary Blitch, David Knight and Daniel Snyder.
All three men are described in court documents
as a Slidell resident "who actively solicits alms in the city.”
Blitch also is described as a U.S. Army veteran.
The case was
filed against the city, Mayor Freddy Drennan and acting Slidell
Police Chief Eugene Howard.
The city's lawmakers claim their
ordinance, initially passed last summer with some minor changes in
October, was in response to a problem the city has been having with
beggars on its streets. Slidell, a city of about 27,000 on the
northeast shore of Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish,
seen an uptick in panhandling over the last several years,
according to Fox8Live.com, with many voicing concern about the
criminals in their numbers.
The ordinance requires anyone who
solicits for alms in within the city's limits be registered with the
police and obtain a free permit. A permit application may be denied
should an applicant have previous violent criminal history.
ordinance also requires each permit recipient to wear the permit on
his or her chest that it may be inspected upon request.
ACLU of Louisiana issued a
letter and statement saying the ordinance is a
clear violation of First Amendment speech protections.
"Just as constitutionally untenable is the provision
requiring panhandlers to register with the City and obtain a permit
prior to begging," the statement said.
On Jan. 10, less than
a month after the ACLU of Louisiana filed the lawsuit, Slidell attorneys told the
judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, that the
city won't enforce the ordinance, according to
The Advocate. That made moot a plaintiff's motion for a preliminary
injunction to block enforcement of the ordinance.
enforcing the ordinance was smart," Quigley said. "If they
enforced it, the people they used it against could sue them for
According to PacerMonitor.com, a scheduling
conference had been set
for Wednesday, Jan. 25, during which a court date may be set. The
judge also probably has ordered attorneys on both sides to set out
their legal and factual arguments about whether the ordinance is
constitutional, Quigley said.
"Because there a few facts in dispute, it should not take
long," he said.
Russell recommended the city of Slidell
reach out to the Louisiana ACLU.
"They should try to come up with a plan that would be
acceptable to both groups," he said.