Monday, June 15, 2009

UGA Students lose Case in Supreme Court

Many of you all probably forgot about this story, but a few UGA students took their issue of a Noise Ordinance all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court. In a split decision, they lost their case. The Red and Black Reports:

The Georgia Supreme Court, in a split decision, ruled against two University students who challenged the Athens-Clarke County's noise ordinance claiming it is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment right to free speech..

UGA students William Hoffman and Robert Manlove, along with the Law Office of Charles A. Jones Jr., filed the lawsuit in January 2008 challenging the county's ordinance.

On Monday, the Georgia Supremes upheld by a 4 to 3 vote a Clarke County court's dismissal of the case. In a three-page opinion, written by Justice Robert Benham, the majority ruled the students did not have the right to sue "because they failed to show any harm or injury resulting from [the] noise ordinance…"

The majority opinion stated that since the students had never been fined or otherwise "injured" by the ordinance, they did not have standing to bring the suit.

I also wanted to bring note to what Chief Justice Leah Sears said in her dissenting opinion:

"Not only is the majority wrong in this case, but the precedent it sets today bodes ill for the future for those who believe that the courts must remain ever vigilant against government attempts to control, and ultimately suppress, the right of the people to speak freely," the dissent said. Like the trial court, "the majority opinion fails to appreciate that music equals speech in the First Amendment context … Music is inherently expressive, and it receives the full protection of the First Amendment, even if it has no lyrics."

"Indeed, it is well established, even outside the First Amendment context, that a plaintiff need not risk actual arrest or prosecution to bring a court challenge to a law that criminalizes conduct that may be subject to constitutional protection," Sears wrote. She pointed out "[a]s then-Judge Carley succinctly put it when he was on the Court of Appeals, a plaintiff 'is not required to violate a law about which there is an actual controversy concerning its enforceability and suffer a criminal prosecution, in order to test its validity."

I think this is a dangerous road. Basically, it is saying that "until you break a law, you cannot sue." I think this is a bad precedent. Issues such as the first amendment should be open to having their cases heard before an alleged violation.


Charles Jones said...


Thank you for your coverage of this case. I too was very impressed by Chief Justice Sears' very well reasoned dissent in this case.

I assure your readers that this fight is far from over, and that we expect to be back before the court very shortly, with plaintiffs who unquestionably have standing.

Even though I am one of the most conservative people I know, I am happy to know that conservatives and UGA Liberal can work together to advance the Constitutional rights of all. Thank you again!

Charles Jones