FAC Urges Ninth Circuit to Protect Right to Honk Car Horns at Protests

Porter v. Gore, No. 21-55149

Read the amicus curiae brief by the First Amendment Coalition

Court: Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals

About the case: A California woman is challenging a state law that restricts the use of car horns, after she got a ticket for honking at a political protest in 2017. The woman, Susan Porter, was cited for violating Section 27001 of California’s Vehicle Code after offering a few beep-beeps in solidarity with fellow protesters who were demonstrating outside of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa’s San Diego-area district office. In a federal lawsuit, Porter asserts a First Amendment right to express herself through horn use. After initially letting the case proceed, the district judge ruled in favor of the government, finding Section 27001 is a permissible, content-neutral regulation. On appeal, Porter’s attorneys argue that the statute is a near-total ban on expressive horn use that must be subject to strict scrutiny, the highest level of judicial review of government restrictions on constitutionally protected activity. And even if it were subject to the less stringent intermediate-level of scrutiny, enforcement of the statute in Porter’s case would not pass constitutional muster, her attorneys argue.

Our position: The Ninth Circuit should reverse the district court’s holding that the government’s actions pass constitutional scrutiny and remand to prevent law enforcement from enforcing Section 27001 in contexts when speakers are expressing themselves by honking.

From the brief: “Speech occurs in a variety of ways, and Porter’s expressive conduct in this case qualifies as speech, as the district court noted. But by downplaying the implications of allowing the government to cite Porter for speaking, the district court both ignored existing First Amendment doctrine and created uncertainty for swaths of similar speakers who might opt to express their political opinions by honking.” 

G.S. Hans, associate clinical professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School, and FAC Executive Director David Snyder represent FAC in the amicus curiae brief.

Date filed: July 13, 2021

More: Porter is represented by ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, which has more information about the case on its website. Read this Q&A about the case with FAC Legal Director David Loy.

Update: Watch oral argument at the Ninth Circuit or stream the audio. The case name is now Porter v. Martinez.

Read the brief.