Court Rules Michigan’s Ban on Begging is Unconstitutional

| by Sarah Siskind
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Brother, can you spare a right?

Earlier today a three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Michigan’s depression-era ban on begging violates the first amendment. The federal court unanimously upheld a lower court's admonition of police who arrested two homeless men asking for change.

According to the Detroit News, the ruling comes a little late for several beggars in Michigan. Between 2008 and 2011, there were 409 reports of violations of the anti-begging ordinance. Of these reports, 399 were arrested or ticketed, and 211 were sentenced to jail time.

Two of the hundreds of homeless arrested, sued in court. James Speet, one of the plaintiffs, was fined $198 for holding a sign that read, “Cold and Hungry, God Bless.” Unable to pay the fine, perhaps because he was, “Cold and Hungry,” Speet spent 4 nights in jail. After that cold January in Michigan had passed, Speet was again arrested in June, this time for a sign that read, “Need Job, God Bless.” This time, Speet secured pro-bono legal counsel and the officers dropped the charges.

The other plaintiff appealing the ban, Ernest Sims, is a veteran. Sims asked a passerby for bus fare saying, “Can you spare a little change?” Instead of getting a little change, Sims was fined $100 by a Grand Rapids Police officer who witnessed the comment.

The court abrogated the ordinance and argued these arrests and tickets were unlawful since solicitations from charitable organization have never been challenged. Amazingly, this law has been in place since 1929 despite the fact that three other appeals courts have upheld the right to solicit money as protected by the first amendment.

The repeal of this Michigan law may stand to benefit many public officials in the newly bankrupt city of Detroit.

Sources: Detroit News