Last month, the Dallas City Council passed a ban on pedestrians loitering on medians. The city stated that it saw the measure as a public safety necessity to protect drivers and pedestrians. Civil rights groups, however, immediately criticized the measure. Now, the city is facing a lawsuit alleging that the ban violates residents’ First Amendment rights.
Safety versus civil rights
In November, Dallas banned pedestrians from standing on medians less than six feet wide and in “clear zones” such as bike lanes and shoulders. The city council reasoned that the measure would prevent cars from striking pedestrians. Under the ordinance, standing on a too-short median is a class C misdemeanor that comes with a fine of up to $500.
In response, the Texas Civil Rights project has filed a lawsuit against the city. It claims that the city council has violated the First Amendment rights of citizens. The group contends that the ordinance deliberately targets panhandlers who live in poverty and inhibits the right to protest. The lawsuit also cites the Dallas Police Department, though the department claims it will collaborate with the City Homeless Solutions and Crisis Management Team to assist homeless panhandlers who violate the ordinance.
Civil rights remain a controversial issue for cities
Currently, it is not certain how far the lawsuit will go and whether it will effectively overturn Dallas’s efforts. However, it is not the first legal challenge that cities have faced regarding civil rights, and it will not be the last. In recent years, cities and other municipal entities have been at the receiving end of criticism and action for a variety of hot-button civil rights issues from gun ownership to LGBTQ rights. In the future, Texas’s municipalities can likely expect to receive pushback from groups that perceive certain regulations to violate constitutional civil rights, no matter how well-intended the measure.