In the Davis City Council’s municipal codes, an ordinance banning annoying persons may be considered a violation of free speech.
The issue was brought to the attention of the council last month, when council candidate and UC Davis law student Daniel Watts sent a letter to the city council urging it to repeal unconstitutional codes that prohibited annoying anyone on the street and using profane language.
Watts was right – these codes do violate the First Amendment right to free speech and they should be repealed.
While the attempt to repeal the ordinances is a peculiar way to win votes and attention, the city council should humor Watts anyway. If the law is not enforced and is not up to date, it might as well be removed.
The council’s reluctance to repeal the ordinance is also concerning. Since Watts first brought up the potential violation, the council put off addressing his concern for almost a month. Though these particular codes are relatively harmless, if another such code were to violate free speech, the city’s codes would be littered with unconstitutional laws.
Given the nature of repealing a municipal code – and especially one like this – there’s no reason for the jurisdictions to drag their feet in updating them. After giving Watts’ item consent to appear on the agenda, the only work the city had to do was write an ordinance. The final ordinance, research included, was a mere paragraph, said city clerk Zoe Mirabile.
In this case, enforcing free speech is as easy as producing a paragraph-long ordinance and adopting a repeal.