Sunday, June 17, 2007

My NY Times Op-Ed on Begging

I have an Opinion piece on the NY State begging law in today's NY Times. It was solicited by one of the regional editors and thus doesn't appear in all the print editions. At least with respect to the editions in NY State that are not included, that's a bit ironic because the point of the op-ed is to decry the fact that the law could be valid in parts of the state but invalid in others.

13 comments:

egarber said...

What if I solicit sex in a non-commercial manner from a passerby? Is that protected speech?

I'm not asking rhetorically -- I really don't know.

Tam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tam said...

Of course it is. Unless, of course you're gay; then who knows. Here’s a scenario: Guiliani wins the election, and appoints, as promised, “strict constructionists” to the court, who overturn Lawrence v. Texas. The next Republican Congress then decides to assert the state’s compelling interest in protecting the institution of heterosexual procreation, and passes the Defense of Procreation Act (DOPA). And that’s a hypo under which the most socially liberal GOP candidate wins.

No, but seriously, I can't imagine how it wouldn't be protected speech. I mean, using Mike's "imagine the headline" approach to jurisprudence, (a/k/a reductio ad absurdum), the regional section of the NYT after a SCOTUS decision holding otherwise might lead off with: "High Court Upholds Sex Solicitation Ban: Meatpacking District Shuts Down For Good."

(Of course, the free speech would still be subject to compelling state interests - e.g., a prohibition against soliciting minors would be permissible.)

But more substantively - Mike, you make an excellent point in noting that "many passers-by might rather avoid" the message communicated by a beggar's extended hand. My only amendment would be that they want to avoid not only the message, but the beggar altogether.

This, argues Jeremy Waldron (in an article I've previously cited - 39 UCLA L. Rev. 295), is the true reason behind these laws: to drive the homeless away, so that people don't have to come literally face to face with the consequences of the economic system that they support.

Rather than trying to ostracize the homeless, we might have a government that prevented people from becoming homeless. As Ralph Nader pointed out, though, Democrats don't really ever talk about poverty. Instead, it's always about the middle class, and I think in juxtaposition with the poor. To the extent that this causes the middle class to identify themselves with the super wealthy, viewing the poor as a common enemy, I think it's terrible, because it creates (or at least amplifies) the conditions that make things like repealing the estate tax politically feasible.

Carl said...

tam in response to egarber said:
Of course it is.

Is it really that obvious that the constitution shields people who set up shop outside ATM's and harass passersby for donations of sexual favors?

Sherry F. Colb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael C. Dorf said...

I wonder whether we might in the future see the development of a new category of unprotected or less protected speech called something like "uninvited speech to strangers." I'm a big fan of the no-call registry, which solves the problem by making unambiguous that particular listeners are in fact an unwilling audience, but note that our law---in requiring an opt-out rather than an opt-in---makes a deliberately counterfactual presumption. My guess is that almost everybody would prefer not to be approached by beggars. So suppose someone wears a t-shirt with bold letters stating "BEGGARS DO NOT ASK ME FOR MONEY." Could the state prohibit begging from such people?

Tam said...

Carl - I was being a bit flip. My point was essentially, "I don't know, but it must be, considering it's essentially what happens at bars and clubs every single day." Of course, that hardly means that it's constitutionally protected.

Mike, I didn't mean to suggest that there's anyone who doesn't dislike being approached by beggars. I was saying that there should be more of a focus on reducing homelessness rather than simply to outlaw activities that the homeless must resort to, in order to drive them elsewhere.

And one big difference with telemarketing calls is that they come into the home (cell phones notwithstanding; but even that is private property, so there's a distinction with begging in the public square).

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