On September 27, 1994, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit on behalf of two organizations against the city of Cleveland for enforcing an ordinance which required vendors to obtain a $50.00 permit to distribute publications. Homeless individuals distributed the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless’ The Homeless Grapevine in exchange for charitable donations. Members of the Nation of Islam sold The Final Call, a publication publicizing the views of Minister Louis Farrakhan. The city prosecuted these vendors for “peddling without a license.” However, the ACLU of Ohio believed that the city was using this licensing fee to suppress these controversial publications.
ACLU of Ohio lawyers Kevin O’Neill, Raymond Vasvari, and David Goldberger argued that most vendors could not afford the license, and that charging a fee violated vendors’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and contradicted Supreme Court precedent dating to the 1940s. On May 3, 1995, the U.S. District Court ruled that the ordinance violated both the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions and permanently struck it down. The city appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which, on February 3, 1997, overturned the U.S. District Court’s decision and upheld the licensing ordinance. The ACLU’s request for a rehearing by the entire court was denied. On October 20, 1997, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, so the Sixth Circuit’s ruling stood.
Read the U.S. District Court’s decision.
Read a summary of the case from the Fall 1994 issue of the Newsletter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.