| BOWDOINHAM, Maine
BOWDOINHAM, Maine Feb 12 A Portland, Maine,
city ordinance banning people from panhandling in the median
strips of roads violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge
ruled on Wednesday.
The ordinance, which passed in August, prohibited people
from loitering in roadways unless they were placing political
campaign signs, a distinction that U.S. District Judge George
Singal said violated the First Amendment right to free speech.
City officials had argued that increasing numbers of
panhandlers in 2012 and 2013 had become a traffic hazard along
the city's roadways. They said the ban was necessary to ensure
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine challenged the
ban on behalf of two anti-war activists and a panhandler who
told the court she collected between $20 and $25 per day from
"The First Amendment protects all of us, no matter what
views we hold or how much money we make," said Zachary Heiden,
legal director for the ACLU of Maine, in a statement.
Heiden said that the economic downturn had increased the
visibility of panhandlers in Maine and elsewhere.
"These bans haven't come about because of an increase in
accidents," he said. "What we're seeing is more people coming to
the streets to ask for assistance."
According to a report by the National Law Center on
Homelessness and Poverty, city prohibitions on begging and
panhandling increased by 7 percent between 2009 and 2011.
The lead plaintiffs' attorney, Kevin Martin, of Boston-based
law firm Goodwin Procter, argued that city and state laws
already adequately protected motorists and pedestrians from
"Our premise from the beginning was that there was no real
safety issue with people standing in medians," Martin said.
Instead, he said, it was more likely a case of competing
interests: Small business owners and residents, Martin said, see
panhandlers and protesters as bad for business and tourism.
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck denied that claim.
"Safety has always been our primary concern," Sauschuck
said. "Although we were hoping for a different outcome, we will
certainly abide by the judge's decision."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Jan Paschal)