Judge weighing options in federal tour guide lawsuit

VIDEO: Charleston tour guides enter federal court for First Amendment lawsuit

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A federal judge considering two motions in a lawsuit over the Charleston's requirement that tour guides get a government-mandated license before they can conduct tours did not make a decision at a Tuesday hearing.

The hearing was to have potentially decided the fate of the lawsuit brought about by three Charleston tour guides in January.

The two motions give the court the option to dismiss the lawsuit, which is what the city has requested, or whether the law will be suspended while the suit is pending.

The federal hearing comes one week after Charleston City Council proposed repealing portions of the tour-guide law in response to the lawsuit. According to attorney's representing the three tour guides, the "hearing will primarily focus on the remaining requirements—including a requirement that would-be guides must memorize a nearly 500-page guidebook and pass a 200-question written exam."

The plaintiffs also want the city to remove the written test from the tour guide law.

"That is a very viable way for me as a semi-retired person to make a living and share my knowledge, but I can't do it because I don't know where 12 different people are buried," Michael Nolan said.

The City of Charleston issued a statement after Tuesday's hearing. It states:

“City attorneys said that the judge’s questions clearly focused on the key issues in the case. Charleston’s tour guide law is both constitutional and reasonable – and the City remains optimistic that the ordinance will withstand constitutional challenge and be upheld.”

The Institute of Justice (IJ) is representing the plaintiffs. The lawyers recently won its challenge in Savannah after the city repealed its law in October 2015, and has successfully represented tour guides in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. IJ also challenged New Orleans' licensing scheme, which was upheld by the 5th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014.

"In this country we rely on people to decide who to listen to. We certainly don't rely on the government to tell us who is qualified to speak," attorney Arif Panju of the Institute for Justice said after Tuesday's hearing.

In January, the organization released a video explaining their lawsuit:

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