Friday, August 9, 2002
Ninth Circuit Revives Challenge to City’s Solicitation Law
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Some features of a Los Angeles city ordinance on charitable solicitation, rewritten after parts of an earlier version was struck down by a federal judge, may still be unconstitutional, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
A three-judge panel sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Steven V. Wilson of the Central District of California, who had rejected Gospel Missions of America’s second challenge to the law, for reconsideration. The district judge failed to subject the law to the “exacting scrutiny” required by a Supreme Court decision, Senior Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote for the panel.
Wallace was joined by Senior Judge Alfred T. Goodwin and Judge Sidney R. Thomas.
Gospel Missions sued in response to a 1992 raid on several of its facilities. It challenged the city’s restrictions on solicitation, and U.S. District Judge Kim Wardlaw—since elevated to the Ninth Circuit—ruled in 1997 that many of the ordinance’s provisions violated the First Amendment.
Under the revised ordinance, solicitors must apply to the police department for an “information card,” setting forth basic facts about the charity, such as how much of its money goes to fundraising expenses. To solicit funds in the city, the charity must obtain the card and must provide a copy to all potential donors.
The law also permits the city to endorse specific charities under certain circumstances and imposes special requirements on paid solicitors.
Gospel Missions charged in a 1999 suit that many of the new law’s provisions violated the First Amendment and/or Wardlaw’s injunction. Wilson, however, granted summary judgment in favor of the city.
The appeals court yesterday affirmed in part, holding that because Gospel Missions has not applied for endorsement and has not shown that the city has enforced or will attempt to enforce the professional fundraiser provisions against it, it lacks standing to challenge those provisions.
But the plaintiff has raised a legitimate constitutional issue, Wallace said, as to whether the requirement that its solicitors show the city-issued identification card to every potential donor violates Riley v. National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina, Inc., 487 U.S. 781 (1988).
That action, a challenge to a state charitable solicitations law, resulted in a ruling that such laws were subject to “exacting First Amendment scrutiny” to determine whether they involve unconstitutional compelled speech.
The Los Angeles ordinance, Wallace acknowledged, requires charities to provide less detail than the North Carolina law challenged in Riley, and is thus less intrusive. But it serves a similar end, the judge said, so the district judge should have evaluated it under the strict standard.
Attorneys on appeal were James H. Fosbinder, of the Hawaii firm of Fosbinder and Fosbinder, for Gospel Missions and John M. Werlich of the City Attorney’s office for the defense.
The case is Gospel Missions of America v. City of Los Angeles, 00-55993.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company