Federal Appeals Court Judge rules state anti-begging law is unconstitional

3:55 PM, Aug 14, 2013   |    comments
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A federal judge in Grand Rapids ruled that a Michigan law banning panhandling in public places violates the Constitution. The ruling was in response to a civil suit filed by two Grand Rapids men who were arrested in 2011 for begging, including James Speet, pictured above. / Michigan ACLU

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- A federal court of appeals is upholding a district court ruling that Michigan's anti-begging statute is unconstitutional.

In 2012, James Speet and Ernest Sims filed a lawsuit against Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the City of Grand Rapids and several of its police officers, arguing panhandling is constitutionally protected by the First and 14th Amendments.

After a lower court sided with Speet and Sims, the Attorney General appealed the decision, arguing the statute does not breach rights protected under the First Amendment, and the ordinance protects residents from fraud.

In an opinion released Wednesday, Federal Appeals Court Judge Adams said while the appeals court agrees fraud prevention is important, the State of Michigan would be better served by creating a statute that is narrower in scope. He also agreed with Speet and Sims that begging is a form of speech constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, and the state law violates that freedom.

While the U.S Supreme Court has not directly ruled the First Amendment protects people asking for handouts, Judge Adams says the Court has repeatedly ruled the First Amendment protects similar charitable requests by organizations.

Between 2008 and 2011, Grand Rapids police enforced Michigan's anti-begging ordinance 409 times. Sims was ticketed and/or arrested three times in 2011.

You can find the entire appeals court opinion here.

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