Judge Altonaga Gets It Right

How about that — Judge Altonaga strikes down Miami-Dade’s idiotic loitering and parade-permit restrictions:

Miami-Dade’s bans on loitering and its permit requirements for public protests are too vague, too broad and could cross First Amendment rights, according to a federal judge who struck down those ordinances late Wednesday.

Organizers of a 2007 protest sued after being denied permission to close streets in front of Miami Dade College during President Bush’s speech at the Kendall Campus. County police have few rules about when to approve or deny such requests.


”We are left simply to assume the benevolence and good intentions of the sheriff in denying the application,” wrote U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga.

County Mayor Carlos Alvarez declined to comment; his spokeswoman said the administration had not fully reviewed the ruling. The county attorney’s office has not decided whether to appeal.

The protesters — including Miami for Peace, South Florida Peace and Justice Network and Haiti Solidarity — also complained that police could have used the county’s loitering ordinance to arrest protesters.

That ordinance is broad enough to ban standing on a public sidewalk in a way that hinders pedestrians and, according to Altonaga’s ruling, “criminalizes virtually all behavior likely to take place at a public demonstration.”

The permit rules provide no standards, no clear appeal and no timeline, leaving police the freedom to sit on a request until the last minute.

”It gave them completely unlimited discretion,” said Mara Shlackman, an attorney for the groups.

Altonaga’s order, like the ordinances themselves, only applies to unincorporated parts of Miami-Dade; cities have their own regulations.

You can read the Judge’s summary judgment opinion here. It’s a nice, clean logical ruling. I like the way the Judge mocks the awful language of the county ordinance:

The awkward and sweeping language of the Ordinance results in a legislative pronouncement that defines loitering with use of the term it seeks to define: “knowingly . . . [l]oitering” in selected public areas, “so as to hinder or impede the passage of pedestrians or vehicles” or “the orderly conduct of instructional, recreational, or other school activities.” Id. Indeed, even the only arguably “objective” component of this construction – “so as to hinder or impede” – is also relatively subjective.

She then concludes:

Since the Loitering Ordinance lacks virtually any objective standards regarding its application, every participant in a public demonstration, or indeed anyone using a public right of way, may be deemed to be in violation of the ordinance and be subjected to its stated penalties.

Yeah, so? We said we would only exercise this power sparingly and with the very bestest of intentions.

It’s a good feeling when simple constitutional rights are vindicated.