ACLU sues Downers Grove, says panhandling prohibition is unconstitutional
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Law Project for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless are suing Downers Grove, saying the village's law against panhandling at intersections is unconstitutional.
The two plaintiffs -- both men -- have the free-speech right to ask for help, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in federal court. The men do so by holding up cardboard signs, often standing on medians at the busy intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads, according to the lawsuit.
"All I want to do is to ask for help when I need it. I'm not blocking traffic or putting myself at risk -- I'm just holding a cardboard sign. If other people and organizations can do it, I should be able to as well," plaintiff Michael Dumiak said in a news release.
Dumiak was cited twice; co-plaintiff Christopher Simmons was cited five times in Downers Grove and once elsewhere in DuPage County.
Downers Grove's municipal code prohibits people from standing on or by roadways and asking people in vehicles for jobs or business.
It also requires any charities that do roadway solicitation -- such as the Downers Grove firefighters' union collecting money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association via its "Fill the Boot" campaigns -- to obtain a village permit, and to be registered with the state attorney general's office.
That violates the 1st Amendment, because it regulates speech based on its content, according to the suit.
"It criminalizes the behavior of someone asking for help for themselves," said Ed Yohnka, communications and public policy director for the ACLU's Illinois chapter.
The village's law mirrors a state law; the ACLU contends the state law is also unconstitutional.
Downers Grove officials were surprised by the lawsuit, communications director Douglas Kozlowski said Wednesday afternoon.
"The Village of Downers Grove supports the ACLU and appreciates its attention and suggestions regarding this matter. Following receipt of a letter from the ACLU in March 2019 regarding the tickets issued, the village immediately dismissed the pending charges and the police department was instructed to cease enforcement of the statute," he said.
"The lawsuit came as a surprise given the village's cooperative response to the ACLU's letter," Kozlowski said.
The ACLU and CCH sent letters in 2018 to at least 15 Chicago-area communities, telling them their panhandling ordinances were unconstitutional. The list included Aurora and Elgin; both removed panhandling as an offense last fall.