Following Friday's landmark ruling on marriage equality, this morning the Supreme Court struck a blow for speech equality. By vacating the First Circuit's ruling on our challenge to Worcester's anti-begging laws, the Supreme Court has given federal courts in Massachusetts an opportunity to say what the ACLU of Massachusetts and Goodwin Procter LLP have long argued: the First Amendment is for everyone, not just for the wealthy.
The Supreme Court's recent decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert confirms that laws regulating speech are subject to the strictest scrutiny when they hinge on the content of the speech. And the Supreme Court's decision in McCullen v. Coakley holds that buffer zones banning speech are rarely if ever constitutional.
How, in light of those decisions, can Worcester enforce hundreds or thousands of buffer zones that prohibit begging but do not prohibit other kinds of speech? The answer is that Worcester absolutely cannot do that.
Matthew Segal is legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.