Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Interesting things going on in the Crescent City

New Orleans is a city well worth visiting and the French Quarter is not to be missed. I visited there last year and had a good time. My friend who is a New Orleans devotee and thinks of it as a second home, even though he's from Detroit and now lives in D.C., sent me the following article where it looks like the N.O. City Council is running afoul of commercial speech protections:

From the New Orleans News

City law in works bans card readers

Clarkson rewrites law tossed by judge

Friday November 14, 2003
By Bruce Eggler

Six days after a federal judge temporarily overturned a city law barring tarot card readers from the vicinity of Jackson Square, City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson has a new version of the law ready to go

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey issued a preliminary injunction last week suspending enforcement of the previous ordinance at least until a February trial. On Saturday, tarot card readers returned to all four sides of the square for the first time in months.

Clarkson, who wants to restrict the space around the square's perimeter fence to visual artists, called Zainey's ruling "absurd."

The previous law took effect in May. Eleven tarot card readers filed a federal lawsuit against it in June, saying the law limits their right to freedom of expression by discriminating against them in favor of artists.

At Zainey's urging, the readers and artists worked out a compromise that would have let the readers operate without interference on the Chartres Street side of the square. The other three sides would have been reserved for artists.

But the council, at Clarkson's urging, defeated the compromise 4-3 in September, leaving the previous ordinance in place and prompting the card readers to pursue their lawsuit.

Council members said Thursday that they had not had a chance to review Clarkson's latest proposal and had no comment on it.

Her proposed ordinance
. . . . would restrict the area extending 20 feet out from the fence on St. Peter, St. Ann and Chartres streets and five feet out from the fence on Decatur Street to 200 artists, who would pay $20 a year for city permits to paint and sell their work in that space.

An explanation prepared by the city Law Department said the new ordinance is designed to answer Zainey's objection that the previous law illegally singled out tarot card readers and other fortunetellers and performers as unwelcome around the square.

In its explanation, the Law Department acknowledged "an unconstitutional content-based restriction of free speech" in the singling out of fortunetellers and performers.

The new ordinance, however, would not specify tarot card readers or other types of speech or performance.

Instead, the Law Department said, it would ban all types of commercial speech in the designated area, "except for the speech of the artists."

The ordinance would ban anyone but artists from placing easels, tables, chairs or similar furniture in the area reserved for artists.

"By not specifically banning fortunetellers and performers," the Law Department explanation said, "the ordinance is a content-neutral regulation with the single purpose of re-establishing the artists colony."

This still does not seem to be a content neutral regulation. It is now discriminating against commercial entities that aren't painters or the required type of artists. Here it seems to be discriminating against artists who do things other than paint. After all there's a good case that could be argued that Tarot readers etc are "artists", and what happends if they paint a few scrawls while giving a reading? Would that qualify under the ordinance?

Not that I have any particular belief in fortune-telling, but hey, if people want to pay them to get it done, and they make a living on it, then why not?

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