Washington DC tour guides win court ruling on free speech grounds

WASHINGTON Fri Jun 27, 2014 3:31pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Friday in favor of Washington tour guides who challenged licensing rules that require guides to pay the city a license fee and pass an exam.

In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the $200 District of Columbia licensing rules for tour operators restricted their constitutional right to free speech.

The city had claimed that the licensing requirement, including the multiple-choice exam, ensured prospective guides' identities and that they knew something about Washington's history and geography.

But the appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit said the city failed to present any evidence that the problems it sought to thwart existed.

"Even assuming those harms are real, there is no evidence the exam requirement is an appropriately tailored antidote," it ruled.

Lawyers for the two tour guides who filed suit had argued that the licensing requirement restricted their First Amendment rights to free speech.

A federal judge had ruled in favor of the city, but the appeals court sent the case back to the lower court to grant the guides' motion for summary judgment.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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