DC Tours

Edwards v. District of Columbia
Challenging Washington D.C.’s Tour-Guide Licensing Scheme

DC tours on segway

Institute for Justice Clients Tonia Edwards and Bill Main

DC Tours

Video: License to Describe

In Washington, D.C., talking without a license can land you in jail for 90 days.

Tonia Edwards and Bill Main are lawbreakers.  Nearly every day, they teach a group of people how to ride Segways, and then take them around Washington, D.C., to talk about local sights and attractions.  Their business is located near the National Archives, so one of the things they tell their costumers is where the Bill of Rights is located.  For this, the city government could throw Tonia and Bill in prison for three months.  In Washington, D.C., it is illegal for anyone to give a tour of the city for compensation without first obtaining a special license—quite literally, a license to describe.

D.C.’s tour-guide licensing scheme is unconstitutional.  Simply put, the government is not allowed to require people to get a license in order to talk.  That is why Tonia and Bill have teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a federal First Amendment challenge to the city’s tour-guide licensing scheme.  

Tonia and Bill’s lawsuit, filed on September 16, 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, will vindicate their right to earn an honest living by speaking as well as establish a very simple and important legal principle:  The Constitution does not allow the government to be in the business of deciding who is—and who is not—allowed to speak about various topics.  

Vindicating this principle will help protect the rights of countless people across the country that communicate for a living—whether they do so as news reporters, stand-up comedians or tour guides.


Essential Background


Backgrounder: License to Describe: Challenging Washington D.C.’s Tour-Guide Licensing Scheme

Client Video

Client Photos

Case Launch Photos
Latest Release: Tour Guides Win Major Free-Speech Fight (June 27, 2014)
Launch Release: Tour Guides Challenge Occupational Licensing Law; Seek to Earn a Living by Speaking in Washington, D.C. (September 16, 2010)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Download: Reply Appellate Brief (December 6, 2013) (PDF)

Download: Opening Appellate Brief (September 16, 2013) (PDF)

Download: IJ's Complaint (September 16, 2010) (PDF)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


September 16, 2010

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia



none available

 Current Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit


  Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Federal Court Upholds Tour Guide Licensing Scheme—For Now (February 25, 2011)

none available

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: D.C. could use a guide to First Amendment Orange County Register (July 10, 2014)

Article: A test for city tour guide regulations: What does the First Amendment protect? The Washington Post (July 3, 2014)

Article: Segway tour pioneers have new reason to celebrate: Overturning D.C. licensing rules The Washington Post (July 3, 2014)

Article: D.C. tour guides win court battle with city The Washington Post (June 27, 2014)

Article: A Good Day to be a Washington Tour Guide, Thanks to the D.C. Circuit Wall Street Journal (June 27, 2014)

Article: Court: D.C. guide rules unconstitutional Politico (June 27, 2014)

Article: Washington tour guides win appeals court ruling Associated Press (June 27, 2014)

Article: Tourists beware: A report from the seamy underworld of unlicensed tour guides The Economist (May 10, 2014)

Article: Appeals Court judges skeptical of DC tour guide law WUSA-CBS (May 5, 2014)

Article: D.C. tour guide license regulation draws scrutiny in appeals hearing WJLA-ABC (May 5, 2014)

Audio: Argument before U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (May 5, 2014) (mp3)

Video: DC City Study Launch 10-26-10; (October 27, 2010)

Article: IJ and DC Tour Guides Take on Licensing Law; Liberty & Law (October 2010)

Video: DC Tours press conference 9-16-10; (September 20, 2010)

Video: IJ's Robert McNamara discusses the DC Tours case on Fox; WTTG-FOX (September 20, 2010)

Video: License to Describe: Defeating Washington D.C.'s Tour Guide Licensing Scheme; (September 16, 2010)

Radio: Power Breakfast on Capitol News Connection NPR (September 16, 2010)

Email Address
Please enter a valid email address

Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22203
Tel 703.682.9320, Fax 703.682.9321
© 1997-2015