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Supreme Court strikes down loitering law

June 11, 1999 by
Filed under: Curfews 

The Supreme Court ruled that a Chicago anti-loitering law is unconstitutional because it violated one’s first Amendment right to assemble peaceably. This ruling indicates that the Supreme Court may eventually rule that curfews, which also indirectly restrict public gatherings, are also unconstitutional.

Justice John Paul Stevens, a Chicago native, said, “in this instance, the city has enacted an ordinance that affords too much discretion to the police and too little notice to citizens who wish to use the public streets.” He wrote that the ordinance, which gave police authority to disperse and subsequently arrest known gang members and those associating with them, was a “violation of freedom of assembly.”

“It criminalized status, not conduct,” Stevens wrote. “It allows and even encourages arbitrary police enforcement.” It is “impermissibly vague on its face and an arbitrary restriction on personal liberties.”

Chicago enacted the law in 1992 and proceeded to arrest 42,000 people in just three years. They were so many arrests because according to the Supreme Court decision, the law was too vague and failed to adequately inform people of what was forbidden. Chicago officials probably prefer a vague law because it gives them the latitude to arrest practically anyone.

Many residents supported the law because violence plagued their neighborhoods and, most importantly, they were not aware of Libertarian solutions. In a Libertarian society, most neighborhoods would be private and gated. Only residents of the neighborhood would be able to congregate inside the gates. Private security companies, which are much less susceptible to bribes, would patrol the neighborhood.

Many thanks to the writers of the Constitution who had witnessed the actions of power-hungry, democratically elected politicians. The Founding fathers included the First Amendment to specifically stop cities from restricting the inalienable, natural rights of citizens. They knew all about curfews and anti-loitering laws.

Chicago, other cities around the country and even the Clinton administration rave about their wisdom in creating anti-loitering laws and teen curfews. However, they did not create these laws. Fascist rulers have been using them for centuries.

Original article about case

If you live in Chicago, you may not be able to hang out on the city streets even after you turn 18. In 1992, Chicago’s mayor signed an ordinance that permitted the police to arrest anyone who failed to disperse. During the next three years, police made 45,000 arrests.

In 1995, the Chicago ACLU filed and won a lawsuit that nullified the law. The City of Chicago appealed the defeat but State Courts also struck down the ordinance. Now the case is before the Supreme Court, which recently heard arguments about the law.

The Supreme Court Justices are aware that the law tries to deny people certain types of enjoyment. At the hearing, Justice David Souter declared that often “there is a purpose to loitering…people like to stand on the corner and watch the cars go by…[T]he ordinance makes the assumption that some purposes are proper and some are not.”

This case will have an impact on future decisions about curfews, which are simply anti-loitering laws. Republican and Democrat politicians have used curfews to outlaw hanging out. If the ACLU proves that the government cannot force law-abiding people to disperse, then the Supreme Court, and every other court in this country, will be more likely to strike down curfews.

Victory appears imminent because the Chicago ACLU is now 17-1 before the high court and undefeated against the city of Chicago. If the ACLU wins, when you are arrested for violating the curfew and you are not wearing an anti-curfew sticker, you could use this court case to prove that you have a right to hang out and watch the cars go by.

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Filed under: Curfews