FAC Urges Court to Block Fresno Ordinance, Citing First Amendment Concerns

The press plays an important role in documenting the government’s treatment of homeless people, FAC’s brief says

The First Amendment Coalition today filed an amicus brief urging a federal judge to block a Fresno ordinance that  impermissibly restricts the press and public’s ability to observe and document sweeps of homeless encampments. 

The legal brief supports First Amendment arguments made by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and homeless advocates, who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the ordinance. The ordinance allows Fresno officials to cordon off an undefined buffer zone around abatement activity, such as sweeps of encampments set up by unhoused people. Anyone who enters these off-limits areas on public property “without express authorization” from the city can be cited with a misdemeanor, raising serious First Amendment concerns over the ability of the public and press to observe and document these controversial government actions. 

FAC’s brief urges the court order to temporarily block the measure, which took effect March 31.

“By excluding the press from access to encampment sweeps, the ordinance prevents the press from performing its critical function in our democracy,” said Monica Price, FAC legal fellow. “The press and public have a right to record government officials so that the public can hold the government accountable.”

FAC is joined in the amicus brief by Californians Aware, California News Publishers Association, the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

ACLU brought the suit on behalf of Dez Martinez, a longtime advocate who was once unhoused, Robert McCloskey, a reporter and activist, the Fresno Homeless Union and Faith in the Valley. The affiliate is joined by California Homeless Union, which is represented by Anthony D. Prince.

A hearing is set for May 17 before U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd of the Eastern District of California, Fresno division (see the court’s calendar for updates).

Read the court filings: Proposed brief of amici curiae, application of amici curiae. Read more about the case here.

More information:
Monica Price
Legal Fellow
First Amendment Coalition
legal@firstamendmentcoalition.org

Find more FAC amicus briefs.