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Charleston Appeals Federal Decision Striking Down Tour Guide Licensing Law

Institute for Justice, which represented would-be tour guides, comments on continuing legal battle

Charleston, S.C.—Yesterday, attorneys for the City of Charleston appealed an August 2018 federal court ruling that struck down the city’s tour guide license. The licensing law was challenged by three would-be tour guides—Kimberly Billups, Michael Warfield and Michael Nolan—who joined with the Institute for Justice (IJ) in January of 2016 to file a lawsuit alleging that the law amounted to an unconstitutional license to speak. Due to the decision, Charleston has since stopped requiring guides to register with the city and take a test before providing tours.

“The First Amendment protects your right to speak for a living, whether you are a journalist, a comedian, or a tour guide,” said IJ Managing Attorney Arif Panju, who represents the plaintiffs. “The judge in this case correctly found that Charleston was infringing on that right despite having no real evidence in support of its decision to do so. We are delighted to have the chance to make these important arguments on appeal.”

Charleston’s appeal comes at the same time as the historic city of Williamsburg, Va. is moving to eliminate its own tour guide license, moving instead to a system of voluntary certification for guides. Williamsburg’s proposed ordinance references the Charleston decision noting that the requirement was found to be a violation of the First Amendment.

“Williamsburg is joining cities across the country, from Philadelphia to Savannah, in realizing that requiring people to get a special license before they talk about history raises enormous problems under the First Amendment,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara. “We look forward to Charleston reaching the same conclusion, even if it takes another court ruling or two for it to get there.”

The Institute has challenged tour guide licenses as violations of the First Amendment all across the country, defeating licensing requirements in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Savannah, Ga. In 2014, New Orleans’ similar license was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the only federal appeals court to uphold licensing requirements for tour guides.

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