In March, 2014, the City of Grand Junction adopted an anti-panhandling ordinance that banned a wide swath of speech that is protected by the First Amendment.  Although Grand Junction officials claimed that the ordinance aimed only at “aggressive” panhandling, most of the provisions are written so broadly that they also apply to peaceful, non-intrusive requests for assistance, such as a person sitting silently with a sign seeking a donation.  The law prohibits all panhandling after sunset and in any of a dozen additional locations and situations specified in the ordinance, such as within 100 feet of a bus stop or a school.

ACLU lawyers filed suit in federal court on March 18, five days before the new ordinance was scheduled to go into effect. Plaintiffs are a street performer, four additional individuals, and Humanists Doing Good, a nonprofit organization.   They were later joined by additional intervenors, including Greenpeace.   All the ACLU clients engage in peaceful expression that the new ordinance unjustifiably makes a crime punishable by up to one year in jail. 

On March 19, the court issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of just one part of the ordinance.  Brown v. City of Grand Junction, 27 F. Supp. 3d 1161 (D. Colo. 2014).  On April 2, Grand Junction repealed the challenged ordinance and replaced it with a revised anti-panhandling ordinance, which then became the focus of the litigation.    The Chief of Police agreed to refrain from enforcement while the litigation proceeded.

On September 30, 2015, the court issued a definitive ruling holding that Grand Junction’s ordinance violates the Constitution.  Brown v. City of Grand Junction, 136 F. Supp. 3d 1276 (D. Colo. 2015).  In response, in the following months, numerous Colorado cities repealed or substantially revised their anti-panhandling ordinances.

ACLU news releases:


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Rebecca Wallace, ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney; Sara R. Neel, ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney; Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director

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