by Steven Hale
A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Brentwood Wednesday, in the case between the city and The Contributor over an ordinance restricting sales of the street newspaper.
In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of The Contributor — which is sold by homeless or formerly homeless vendors and is the highest selling paper of its kind in the country — challenging a longstanding Brentwood ordinance prohibiting street sales. The ordinance had been on the books since 1976, but apparently had rarely, if ever, been enforced before Contributor vendors started showing up on Brentwood's tony suburban streets. The ACLU claimed that the ordinance violated the First Amendment.
The case was dismissed last year by a federal judge in Nashville, but the ACLU had appealed for that dismissal to be overturned.
Representing Brentwood was Nashville attorney Robert Burns, who argued that the city was not responsible for proving other means of sale were viable to The Contributor.
“The city’s position is that the standard is not that The Contributor is entitled to get the best or the only means of communication in which they engage,” Burns said. “Rather, the question is whether there are reasonable opportunities for them to communicate, and we submit that there are.”
The Court of Appeals agreed—“It might be easier for The Contributor and its street vendors to return to its practice of selling to motor-vehicle occupants, but ‘there has been no showing that the remaining avenues of communication are inadequate,’” read the opinion.
“We’re very pleased with the decision,” said city attorney Roger Horner. “It vindicates Brentwood’s efforts to keep our streets safe. The federal courts have recognized that the city can do that in a way that still honors the Constitution.”
The paper has long held that in-person sales are vital to its mission, as they facilitate face-to-face interaction between its homeless vendors and the rest of the public.
Kubis reports that the city's attorney, Horner, also argued that Contributor vendors were not taking advantage of other means of distribution, such as door-to-door sales. She goes on to note that "judges on the appeal panel did express skepticism... that suburban homeowners would open their doors to homeless salespeople."
We'd express skepticism, or perhaps even certainty, on the same point, but that'd be stereotyping.