Press Release March 07, 2014

Goodwin Procter and ACLU Secure Pro Bono First Amendment Victory

Goodwin litigators, working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, recently achieved a complete victory when the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine entered a judgment declaring a Portland ordinance intended to reduce panhandling in the city unconstitutional.  After the ordinance went into effect in August, Goodwin and the ACLU filed a complaint challenging the law on First Amendment free speech grounds on behalf of three plaintiffs: two protestors who hold political-issue signs on Portland’s medians and a homeless woman who solicits donations from medians. The complaint sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief prohibiting the city from enforcing the ordinance. In lieu of a hearing on the preliminary injunction motion, the parties agreed to undertake expedited fact discovery and conduct a bench trial in November, less than two months after the complaint was filed.

In its decision, the District Court agreed with Goodwin and the ACLU that the ordinance was a content-based restriction on speech because it permitted individuals to enter medians to post election campaign signs but not other types of signs. Applying strict scrutiny to the law, the court assumed that safety—the city’s justification for the ordinance—was a compelling state interest, but nonetheless found that the ordinance was not necessary to serve that interest.  In particular, the court rejected the city’s position that it could simultaneously be safe for politicians to stand in medians to plant signs, but too dangerous for the plaintiffs and others to stand there communicating different messages. The court also criticized the city for repeatedly changing its justification for the law in response to Goodwin’s arguments, noting that “time and again, the city has made an argument, been presented with the implications of that argument, and then attempted to alter its line of argument.”

The Goodwin team was led by partner and Appellate Litigation co-chair Kevin Martin, and included associates Tim Bazzle, Brian Burgess and Jennifer Ford.