Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons have been harassed, ticketed, and prosecuted by Downers Grove authorities when the men stood on a raised median strip seeking donations from people in vehicles stopped at the intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads. They have not caused safety or traffic problems. Firefighters and others use that median in the same manner to raise money for charitable organizations, but they are not ticketed or prosecuted.
Mr. Dumiak and Mr. Simmons have been charged under an Illinois statute that makes it a misdemeanor to stand on a median to solicit contributions, employment, business, or rides from passing vehicles. The statute does not prohibit other interactions with drivers and passengers, such as gathering petition signatures or distributing leaflets. It allows municipalities to exempt certain charities from the law, even as local police enforce it against individuals who ask for money for their own use. A Downers Grove ordinance similarly prohibits standing on a median strip to solicit funds from vehicles, but expressly exempts some charitable solicitation.
Joined by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) and lawyers at Schiff Hardin, we are challenging this practice as a violation of our clients’ First Amendment rights.
A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it clear that most laws targeting panhandlers are unconstitutional. Although the case (Reed v. Town of Gilbert) was not about panhandling, the Supreme Court clarified that government regulation of speech based on its subject matter or purpose is almost always unconstitutional. Since Reed was decided, panhandling ordinances across the nation have been repealed or struck down by courts.