Consent Judgment in ACLU Lawsuit Ends Enforcement of Anti-Leafleting Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
February 4, 2010 12:00 am

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ST. LOUIS — In a consent judgment entered today by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department are ordered to stop enforcing a St. Louis City ordinance that criminalized the placement of political leaflets on vehicles parked on public streets.

The order comes in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri (ACLU-EM) in December 2009 that alleged a city ordinance prohibiting such behavior is a violation of free speech. Under existing precedent, the ban on leaflets “would be interpreted as an infringement upon the First Amendment speech rights of Plaintiffs and other non-parties to this litigation,” according to the judgment.

The plaintiffs in the case are members of Citizens for More Responsible St. Louis City Government. The group had been publicizing a petition drive that would have allowed city voters to affirm or reject a city ordinance in support of the controversial Northside Development plan. As outreach in their effort, the plaintiffs were placing flyers on the windshields of cars parked on public streets. This activity put them in conflict with city ordinance 11.18.180, which states, “No person shall throw or deposit any commercial or noncommercial handbill in or upon any vehicle without the owner’s consent.”

“There is a long established right to free political speech while on public property. The flyers in question are clearly political in nature,” said Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Our clients feared that any future leafleting activity may result in their arrest. Today’s consent judgment ensures that their right to expression will not be suppressed.”

ACLU-EM Executive Director Brenda Jones applauded the City of St. Louis for bring the case to a quick resolution: “We appreciate the recognition of the important constitutional rights at stake and the willingness to resolve this matter quickly and amicably.”

Under terms of the consent judgment, the City of St. Louis will not enforce the ordinance, take all necessary steps to ensure that the ordinance is removed from law enforcement charge codes, and will make all police officers and park rangers aware of the order.

The plaintiffs were represented in this case by ACLU-EM cooperating attorney Nathan Howard in addition to Rothert.

The complaint and consent judgment are available for viewing on the ACLU of Eastern Missouri’s website at:

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