In granting a temporary restraining order sought by the plaintiffs, Judge William Smith wrote in a decision released today, “Defendants are hereby enjoined from enforcing the Ordinance until further order of the Court.”
Cranston passed in February an ordinance that makes panhandling and leafleting or public roads illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, which has previously defeated attempts by Cranston and Mayor Alan Fung to outlaw panhandling on public roads, filed a lawsuit in federal court saying the ordinance violates the First Amendment.
The case pits two of Rhode Island’s top lawyers against one another as Judge Smith heard arguments earlier this week from lawyers Lynette Labinger, representing the ACLU, and Marc DeSisto, representing Cranston.
Smith awarded the first round – a request for a temporary restraining order – to Labinger and civil liberties over DeSisto and public safety. And the ACLU said the favorable ruling indicates their case will likely succeed.
“The courts have found that similar ordinances violate the First Amendment, and today’s ruling suggests that this ordinance is no different,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of RI.
Indeed, Smith himself said the ACLU’s case has “a strong likelihood of success” writing, “while perhaps a close call at this preliminary stage, the Ordinance does not appear narrowly tailored to the stated government interest, and Plaintiffs have therefore established a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their Verified Complaint.”
Said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of RI, “It’s unfortunate that municipalities – Cranston in particular – continue to spend valuable tax dollars on efforts that undermine our constitutionally-protected rights and make the lives of the poor more difficult.”
If ultimately successful, it would be the second time in as many years that the ACLU of RI has prevented Cranston and Fung from implementing laws preventing panhandling on public roads.