A federal judge granted class-action status Tuesday to thousands of suspected panhandlers arrested or forced off streets of New York in the last 15 years by police who used a law that was declared unconstitutional, reports the Associated Press. In a ruling critical of police and prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin also made defendants of 553 law enforcement agencies in 62 counties statewide in a lawsuit brought on behalf of anybody illegally subjected to the law.
In October 1992, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet in Manhattan ruled that a state law violated the 1st Amendment when it allowed the arrest of anyone who “loiters, remains or wanders about in a public place” to beg. That ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court. Scheindlin has repeatedly expressed her dismay that New York City has continued enforcing the law after it was ruled unconstitutional, though the city recently has insisted it has taken steps to stop. The judge said that certifying the class action was the only way to effectively prevent the law from being enforced statewide.