Appeals Court Rules Michigan Anti-Begging Law Unconstitutional

Posted at 4:21 PM, Aug 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-14 16:21:13-04

Court-gavel-and-justiceGRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Begging is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, a federal court of appeals judge ruled Wednesday.

Grand Rapids men James Speet and Ernest Sims filed the initial lawsuit in 2012 against Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the City of Grand Rapids and several police officers, after they were arrested several times for panhandling in the city.

The Attorney General appealed the initial decision after the lower court sided with Speet and Sims, claiming that the city’s anti-begging statute protects residents from fraud and doesn’t violate freedom of speech rights in the First Amendment.

In an opinion released Wednesday, Federal Appeals Court Judge John R. Adams upholds the lower court decision, striking down the anti-begging law that has existed in Michigan since 1929.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled directly on this issue, but Judge Adams writes that they have upheld that “solicitation of ‘charitable contributions’ is protected speech.”  He said that the State of Michigan would need a statute that was narrower in scope, and agreed with Speet and Sims that begging is constitutionally protected free speech.