A preliminary injunction hearing has been set for May 30 in the ACLU’s federal lawsuit against the City of Pensacola over its controversial new anti-panhandling ordinance.
The law makes it illegal for anyone to ask for a donation, either verbally or by holding up a sign, within a roughly 40-block section of the city’s downtown. City council members narrowly approved the law earlier this month, and the ACLU of Florida filed suit days later on behalf of local nonprofit Food Not Bombs and two other individuals. In addition to asking the court to strike down the law, the ACLU is seeking a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the law while the suit is ongoing.
Senior District Judge Roger Vinson has scheduled a hearing on the injunction request for Tuesday, May 30. City officials said Monday that the ban, which went into effect last week, won’t be enforced prior to the hearing.
While the ordinance targets panhandlers specifically, its strict language also bars street performers and charities like The Salvation Army from seeking donations within the downtown area. ACLU attorneys have argued that the ban is an unconstitutional violation of free speech and due process rights.
“We repeatedly warned the city council that this ordinance was unconstitutional,” said Jacqueline Azis, an ACLU of Florida staff attorney. “The city council can’t outlaw certain kinds of speech just because hearing it could make some people uncomfortable. Courts throughout the country, including in Florida, have been abundantly clear about the unconstitutionality of these laws. We had worked to avoid litigation, but when this cruel and unjust law was passed, we had to take action before it went into effect to protect the rights of the city’s most vulnerable citizens, street performers, and charitable groups.”
The ACLU has successfully overturned similar anti-panhandling laws in other states and is currently involved in legal challenges to similar ordinances in Cleveland, Ohio and Belton, Mo.
Here’s a copy of the ACLU’s memorandum in support of a preliminary injunction: