ACLU of Hawaii Sues State, Saying Broadly Worded "Squatters Law" Curtails Right to Use Public Spaces

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
September 7, 2004 12:00 am

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HONOLULU–The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Governor Linda Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett, saying that a recently enacted trespass statute is unconstitutional and gives public officials overly broad powers to ban individuals from using public spaces such as beaches, streets or sidewalks.

The lawsuit challenging Act 50, also known as the “squatters law,” was filed on behalf of The Center, a Honolulu-based group that provides services and programs to the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex and questioning communities, and Carlos Hernandez, a Honolulu resident and taxpayer. The ACLU wants the law declared invalid and a court order issued to prevent its enforcement.

“This law gives unbridled discretion to police and others to engage in arbitrary and capricious denials of protected expression based on nothing more than their individual prejudices and predilections,” said ACLU of Hawaii Legal Director Lois K. Perrin. “This statute is a classic, standardless law in blatant violation of the United States and Hawaii Constitutions.”

Act 50 was signed into law on May 4, 2004, to allow any police officer or other authorized individual to ban someone from public property for up to one year merely by issuing a “warning statement advising the person that the person’s presence is no longer desired on the premises.” The act fails to define what conduct would justify a year-long ban.

The ACLU of Hawaii said that without identifying standards and procedures, Act 50 allows any police officer or authorized person to ban an individual from a public place for up to one year for doing nothing more than engaging in constitutionally protected activities.

According to the ACLU of Hawaii, under the statute:

  • a lifeguard could ban someone from a beach for carrying a paper sign protesting pollution of the waters;
  • the state could ban individuals from entering a courthouse to prevent the filing of a lawsuit;
  • the state could ban all political party workers from schools and other facilities set up for voting in state and national elections; and
  • police officials could selectively bar protesters from the grounds of the state capitol.

“This is a very bad law that allows the police and others to continue to oppress the thoughts and views of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex and questioning community,” said Ken Miller, Executive Director of The Center. “The Center is dedicated to striking down this law to protect our civil rights.”

The ACLU of Hawaii said that Act 50 has already been misused by law enforcement officials.

“Although this ill-conceived law was intended to target the homeless population, its enforcement has not been so limited,” Perrin said. “For example, a security guard elected to ban one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit from the Hawaii State Library simply because he used one of the library’s public computers to access, a resource website for the gay community. The United States and Hawaii Constitutions clearly protect such activity.”

The ACLU’s complaint is online at: /node/35132

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