Supreme Court Hearing on Begging Has Awkward Twist


On Jan. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to hear an appeal related to a Worcester, Mass., city ordinance that bans “aggressive begging,” Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times. It is a First Amendment case with an awkward twist in that it potentially puts justices at odds with a former colleague. The federal appearl court in Boston rejected a challenge of the law in July. The author of that opinion was Justice David J. Souter, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2009 but continues to hear the occasional case as a visiting appeals court judge.

His opinion, for a unanimous three-judge panel, addressed a challenge brought by a homeless couple, Robert Thayer and Sharon Brownson. “I continue to stand on sidewalks with my sign,” Thayer said, “because I have no other way of making money to survive. I understand that I am risking arrest, but I have no other choice.” Souter said the Worcester ordinance was permissible because begging can create “serious apprehensiveness, real or apparent coercion, physical offense or even danger.” He had said much the same thing in a 2000 concurrence in a Supreme Court decision that upheld buffer zones around abortion clinics in Colorado.

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