New Orleans, La.—Four New Orleans tour guides are appealing their First Amendment challenge to the city’s tour guide licensing law to the Fifth Circuit. The appeal comes after the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled earlier this month that the licensing law does not violate the First Amendment.
“We are willing to take this fight as far as it needs to go,” said New Orleans native Candance Kagan, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We are fighting not just for our First Amendment rights, but for free speech for everyone.”
New Orleans requires every tour guide to pass a history exam, undergo a drug test and pass an FBI criminal background check every two years merely for speaking. The law covers all types of tours, from historical and culinary tours to fanciful ghost tours. People who give tours without a license face fines up to $300 per tour and five months in jail.
“Tour guides simply walk around and talk to people about a place, and that speech is squarely protected by the First Amendment,” said Matt Miller, lead counsel in the lawsuit and executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter. “Whether you are a journalist, a street performer or a tour guide, the government can’t threaten you with jail time for talking about history, food or ghosts without a license.”
This lawsuit is part of a larger, national effort to protect the rights of individuals that speak for a living. The Institute for Justice has challenged tour-guide licensing schemes in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., receiving significant national media attention, including coverage from NPR’s All Things Considered and the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The Institute has also filed lawsuits on behalf of a North Carolina diet blogger, a Texas veterinarian who gives advice online, and a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, all of whom have had their speech censored by government licensing boards.
“These cases raise one of the most important unanswered questions in First Amendment law: Can occupational-licensing laws trump free speech?” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman. “The district court’s ruling is part of a disturbing national trend of federal courts treating occupational speech as if it were entitled to no meaningful protection. That judicial abdication has to stop. We’re willing to take this case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to vindicate the rights of all Americans who earn their living by speaking.”
Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty. For more information on this lawsuit, please visit www.IJ.org/NOLATours.