The LA City Council has passed an ordinance that bars protestors from demonstrating within 300 feet of their target’s home.
Critics of the measure argue the ban restricts constituents from exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights.
Will LA’s ban hold up in court? Jessica Levinson, who teaches constitutional law at Loyola Law School, says yes — for now.
“Los Angeles has done their legal homework in terms of whether or not this would allow them to still exercise their fundamental speech rights.”
The new ordinance is modeled after one from San Jose. It was instituted in 1993 in response to anti-abortion protestors and was upheld by the Supreme Court.
In LA, officials developed the policy after more than a year of protests at public officials’ homes. The final straw for the City Council was when protestors against the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate showed up at two councilmembers’ homes in August.
“That's a decent balancing act between your ability to be safe from people who are protesting or picketing, and my ability to exercise my fundamental First Amendment rights to let you [know] I don't like what you're doing.”
According to Levinson, questions of whether the ordinance goes against the right to assemble in public spaces are answered by being “content neutral.” That means no law can limit protests based on who is speaking and what they are saying, but it can restrict demonstrations if they create hazardous situations.
“Let's imagine you tried to have a parade in the middle of the 10 freeway in rush hour. It's not that we don't like who you are or what you're saying. It's that where you are is causing us a problem.”
Despite those protections, Levinson still believes the ordinance will face a legal challenge.
“Even if the ordinance itself is upheld in court, you could still see challenges later based on how it is being applied to protesters.”
But the passage of the ordinance at the City Council does not mean there is an immediate threat to the general public. Instead, Levinson thinks this measure specifically aims to shield elected officials who are facing increasingly volatile protests.
“What at least a number of members of the City Council have said is, ‘Look, my family and/or I are actually in danger.’ They do need to be specific about those statements, those findings, and those reasons. They're not trying to say that 80% of Angelenos are facing danger. They're saying that they are.”