Court makes right ruling on labor law
On Sept. 16, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a California municipal law that would make it illegal for any person “to stand on a street or highway and solicit, or attempt to solicit, employment, business, or contributions from an occupant of any motor vehicle.”
The law would apply to public places, including, but not limited to “roadways, parkways, medians, alleys, sidewalks, curbs and public ways.”
The Redondo Beach City Council cited traffic safety and flow at intersections as the reason for the law against solicitation on these public grounds.
Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, supported the ordinance, complaining of public urination and outrageous “open air hiring halls.” Judge Kozinski also cited the loiterers’ raucous behavior, including vandalizing, littering, and harassing females.
He forgot that these problems, as well as traffic issues, could be solved by police simply enforcing existing laws.
The 1987 law was challenged in 2004 when a sting operation resulted in the arrests of 60 young men who were convicted, sentenced to suspended sentences of 180 days in jail and three years’ probation. The men were basically arrested, convicted and given probation for standing around.
Civil rights, minority and labor groups countered that the law unfairly restricts free speech; since the day laborers (whom the law most affects) do not have “ample alternative channels of communication,” the state should protect their right to speak, including solicit, on these public grounds.
These groups also said that since the law is so broad it could apply to conventionally accepted groups, such as kids raising money by washing cars or relief groups soliciting donations. Dissenters claimed that those acceptable groups would not face trouble from police anyway.
The ordinance not only violates the First Amendment, but it also exhibits a classist, jaded culture. Why should police treat unemployed people seeking work differently from a church group raising money for a mission trip or a school group participating in a fund-raiser?
The difference seems to be that one group is more unsightly than the other, so they are labeled criminals.
The law’s lack of parameters also gives police much discretion, potentially allowing for discrimination. And it may make it possible to prosecute low income and homeless individuals who solicit donations among traffic.
Members of the Rodondo Beach City Council ignored likely effects of the law: it would limit these laborers’ opportunity for work and facilitate police arrests for more dubious reasons. It hides social problems such as unemployment, homelessness, and lack of other recourses rather than addressing them.
It would be nice if everybody had the luxury of a stable day job. But for those not so fortunate as Kozinski, work garnered on street corners makes money that feeds children and pays bills. The right to openly ask for work or help should not be restricted because drivers do not feel comfortable facing reality.
The municipality states that it will appeal, but for now this decision represents a victory for laborers, minorities and low-income individuals whom the ordinance would most likely victimize.
Rachel Farhi is a senior English literature and political science double major and may be reached at [email protected]