A federal judge has struck down as unconstitutional a suburban New York town’s law banning day laborers from soliciting for work on public sidewalks, declaring its broad application could affect children selling lemonade in their driveway.
U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley said in a ruling on Sept. 3 that Oyster Bay’s law violates the First Amendment, and he suggested that the town’s concerns about public safety could be addressed by enforcing existing state vehicle and traffic laws. The town is considering whether to appeal.
“The ordinance prohibits speech and conduct of an expressive nature that does not pose a threat to safety on the town’s streets and sidewalks,” Hurley said. “It reaches children selling lemonade at the end of a neighbor’s driveway … the veteran holding a sign on a sidewalk stating `will work for food,’ and students standing on the side of a road advertising a school carwash.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit along with several other groups challenging the law after it was enacted in 2009. Because of the ongoing litigation, the town has never enforced the ordinance, which called for fines of $250 for violators.
“Localities across the country have undertaken unconstitutional measures like this as a way of targeting vulnerable immigrant populations,” said NYCLU senior attorney Corey Stoughton. “This ruling sends a message to local governments that courts will not let them get away with subverting American constitutional values to pursue an anti-immigrant agenda.”
Maryann Slutsky, an advocate for immigrants on Long Island, said: “After five years, justice has been served.” She viewed the law as “a means to force day laborers out of town; it has racist undertones.”
John Venditto, Oyster Bay town supervisor, said in a statement that he was disappointed by the judge’s ruling. He has said the law was intended to address safety concerns because day laborers were congregating in various communities creating traffic hazards.
“We appreciate that the court recognizes the seriousness of the day laborer problem,” Venditto said, adding the town is reviewing the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
The 165-square-mile town, with a population of nearly 300,000, is actually a confederation of 18 villages and 18 hamlets stretching north from the Atlantic Ocean to the Long Island Sound in the center of Long Island, outside New York City. The hamlet of Oyster Bay is perhaps best known as the home of President Theodore Roosevelt.
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