Federal court strikes Charleston tour guide licensing laws as Unconstitutional

VIDEO: Federal court strikes Charleston tour guide licensing laws as Unconstitutional

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A federal judge says the Charleston's tour guide licensing law is Unconstitutional.

The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice which challenged the law because it required tour guides to pass a written test before they could charge for tours.

The ruling, issued Friday by federal Judge David Norton, struck down the law but added this footnote:

In striking down the licensing law, this court follows -- as it must -- binding authority about the reach of the First Amendment. But it takes this as an opportunity to posit that this case is an example of the First Amendment run amok and question whether the paid tour guide speech that is at issue in this case is the type of speech that the First Amendment is intended to protect. The court remains convinced that "paid tour guide speech is not a form of expression that '[has] historically been [ ]  closely associated with the transmission of ideas.'"

Norton echoed another ruling stating "speech is everywhere -- a part of every human activity (employment, health care, securities trading, you name it.) For that reason, almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech. So the majority's road runs long. And at every stop are black-robed rulers overriding citizens' choices. The First Amendment was meant for better things. It was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance."

"Of course, we're disappointed with the ruling," Charleston spokesman Jack O'Toole said. "City attorneys are currently reviewing the judge's order and expect to have recommendations for next steps early next week."

The managing attorney for the Texas office of the Institute for Justice, Arif Panju, represented three plaintiffs who testified in the case.

"One of them is still wanting to be tour guide, but never passed the test," Panju said in April.  "Two became tour guides only because the city revised the test after the lawsuit was filed and got rid of the oral exam where you had to stand up in front of city officials and prove that you sounded okay and said the right things."

In order to become a licensed tour guide who can charge for tours, the law would have required people to pass a 200-question written exam. The questions came from information in a nearly 400-page manual that is provided by the City of Charleston.

"If you pass that test you can talk and tell the stories you want to tell, if you don't pass that test you cannot and that violates the First Amendment," Panju said.

The lawsuit argued that people should be allowed to decide who they want to listen to rather than city officials deciding who is permitted to get paid to speak.

"The city of Charleston has stepped in between people who want to talk and people who want to listen.and demanded that people who want to talk have mastered certain information that the city cares about," Panju said.

This case was the Institute for Justice's fifth lawsuit challenging tour guide licensing. Before Friday's ruling, it said three of its four lawsuits were successful.

A federal appellate court deemed that Washington, D.C.'s tour-guide license violated the Constitution while Savannah and Philadelphia d ropped their tour-guide licensing in response to legal challenges according to the Institute for Justice.

The Institute says the courts in New Orleans upheld their tour-guide licensing laws.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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