Tour Guides Win Major Free-Speech Fight

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 27, 2014

Arlington, Va.—In a resounding victory for free speech, today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down Washington, D.C.’s tour-guide licensing scheme. Tour guides faced fines and 90 days in jail unless they passed a city-mandated history test. Local tour guides Tonia Edwards and Bill Main first challenged the law in 2010 as a violation of their free-speech rights under the First Amendment. Edwards and Main, who own and operate “Segs in the City,” a Segway-rental and tour company, wanted the right to talk to their customers without first seeking government approval.

“This is a massive victory for the right to speak for a living,” explained Robert McNamara, the Institute for Justice (IJ) senior attorney who was lead attorney on the case. “The court today confirmed that the First Amendment protects everyone who talks for a living, whether you’re a journalist, a professor or a tour guide. The District of Columbia argued that labeling these regulations an ‘occupational license’ meant they were in a First Amendment-free zone, and the court today resoundingly rejected that argument.”

The court of appeals took issue with the fact that the tour-guide regulations, which impose serious burdens on those who want to talk to tour groups, were wholly unjustified by evidence: “The District failed to present any evidence the problems it sought to thwart actually exist. Even assuming those harms are real, there is no evidence the exam requirement is an appropriately tailored antidote.”

“It’s good to see the system works,” said Bill Main, one of the plaintiffs. “The idea that the government would have the power to decide whether or not I’m qualified to talk to my customers is just outrageous.”

“Today’s decision affirms a simple principle,” concluded IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “In this country, we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to rather than relying on the government to decide who gets to talk. The tour-guide regulations got that principle exactly backwards, and that is why they were found unconstitutional.”