COLORADO–The city of Aurora can prohibit “hawking” by newspaper street vendors who confront motorists at traffic lights without running afoul of the sellers’ free speech rights, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in mid-May.
The court held that the city government has the right to control interaction between cars and pedestrians because of the potential for danger at intersections.
“The ordinance does not burden more speech than is necessary to advance the government’s legitimate concerns, and leaves open ample alternative channels of communication,” the court wrote.
The ordinance states that solicitors may not conduct business with vehicles traveling on streets if the solicitor must enter the street, stand on a median, or block access to a legal parking area.
The Rocky Mountain News won an injunction from the District Court in Englewood suspending enforcement of the ordinance shortly after its enactment in 1993. The paper argued the law violated its free speech rights and portions of the state constitution by limiting the distribution of the newspaper, and would eliminate 250 jobs.
But the high court, in a 5-2 decision, said the street-sale ban was constitutional because of the safety threat. Chief Justice Luis Rovira wrote that despite instructions on how the solicitors should behave, “Some hawkers dance and sing. Other conduct sales in lanes of moving traffic.”
Five days after the Supreme Court issued its ruling, a federal district judge in Denver in a case concerning a similar ordinance ordered a temporary lifting of Denver’s ban of street sales, sending about 20 hawkers back onto the streets selling The News in Littleton, a suburb of Denver. The federal suit was also filed by the publisher of The News.
U.S. District Judge Jim Carrigan said Littleton’s ordinance banning the sales “seriously damages the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech,” The News reported.
A hearing to decide whether the case should go to trial is scheduled for early June. Carrigan again will preside over the case. (Denver Publishing Company v. City of Aurora; Media attorney: Margerie Sloan, Denver. Denver Publishing Company v. City of Littleton; Media attorney: Jim Clark, Denver)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.