In 2009, the Town of Oyster Bay in New York passed a law prohibiting people from soliciting employment along roadways within the Town. Two public interest groups sued the Town alleging that the law violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. On August 22, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s determination that the law violates the First Amendment. Today’s New York civil rights blog discusses the case Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley v. Oyster Bay.
First Amendment Free Speech
The First Amendment prohibits the government from passing laws which restrict speech based on the content of the speech. For example, a law which generally allows picketing unless the picketing is aimed at a particular type of labor dispute has been declared unconstitutional. In Centro, the Second Circuit found that Oyster Bay’s law unlawfully regulated content based speech because the government would have to assess what the speaker was saying to determine whether the person was violating the law. In other words, as described by the Court, Oyster Bay would have to look at whether the person was stopping vehicles and saying “hire me” verse “tell me the time.” Thus, the Court had no problem finding that Oyster Bay’s law restricted content-based speech.