ACLU Sues City of Boise Over Anti-Panhandling Ordinance 

"The three members of the City Council who voted in favor of the ordinance are getting today exactly what they voted for—a federal lawsuit."

click to enlarge Tony Roque serves 19-page federal court document with City of Boise on November 4.

George Prentice

Tony Roque serves 19-page federal court document with City of Boise on November 4.

The process is very simple. The issue is anything but.

At approximately 10:30 a.m. on November 4, process server Tony Roque took a number and waited in line in the lobby of Boise City Hall. When his number was called, he stepped up to a window where a representative of the City Clerk's office was seated and Roque handed the representative a 19-page document.

And with that, the City of Boise was served.

The ACLU of Idaho officially launched a federal lawsuit this morning, arguing that the city's recently-passed anti-panhandling ordinance was in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"The ACLU specifically warned the Boise City Council that this ordinance was unconstitutional," said ACLU of Idaho legal director Ritchie Eppink, who added that the suit was a "clarion call."

"This lawsuit should come as no surprise to anyone and especially not the city," said Eppink.

After listening to hours of public testimony, overwhelmingly opposed to the ordinance, the Boise City Council voted 3-1 in favor of the measure which prohibits solicitation for donations colored by intimidation, obstruction of right-of-way or repeated attempted at solicitation after a negative response.

Voting in favor of the measure were Council President Maryanne Jordan and Council Members Ben Quintana and T.J. Thomson. The only Council Member voting against the ordinance was Lauren McLean.

Boise Weekly asked Eppink about the significance of launching the lawsuit one day before Election Day when Jordan, Quintana and Thomson would be running for reelection.

"A lot of issues wrapped up in this case are directly relevant to issues going on in the city and the city council election," said Eppink. "All three city council members who voted in favor of this ordinance are, coincidentally, the three who will be standing for election tomorrow. These issues are something that, hopefully, everyone in the City of Boise should be keeping in mind before going to the polls tomorrow."

As early as June, the ACLU of Idaho was telling Boise Weekly that it was prepared to launch a legal challenge if the ordinance was passed (BW, News, "Out of the Panhandle, Into the Fire," June 5, 2013).

"The three members of the City Council who voted in favor of the ordinance are getting today exactly what they voted for—a federal lawsuit," said Erika Birch, ACLU of Idaho board member. "The ordinance criminalizes certain speech and expression and specifically restricts words that a person can use in the City of Boise, particularly in the downtown core area. It goes too far and violates constitutionally-protect speech."

In statement from the office of Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, spokesman Adam Park wrote, "The ordinance was carefully crafted to prevent aggressive solicitation while still ensuring the protection of all citizens' speech. The City will defend the ordinance and is confident it will withstand this legal challenge."

Ritchie Eppink, legal director of ACLU of Idaho, announces lawsuit against City of Boise on steps of City Hall.
  • George Prentice
  • Ritchie Eppink, legal director of ACLU of Idaho, announces lawsuit against City of Boise on steps of City Hall.

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