Federal Judge Dismisses Philly Tour-Guide Lawsuit

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 6, 2009

Arlington, Va—Today, a federal district court judge dismissed a high-profile challenge to a new Philadelphia law that makes it illegal to give tours of the city without first passing a test and obtaining a license. The judge determined that the city’s budget crisis made it unlikely that the law, which allows city officials to fine guides up to $300 for engaging in unauthorized talking, would be enforced “in the near future.” He dismissed the case until the city begins enforcement.

The court’s opinion is based on the premise that the city would not enforce the law in the immediate future, even though city officials testified at trial that the law was “absolutely” important to them and that they intended to enforce it.

“The city asked the court to ignore the serious constitutional concerns presented by the law,” said Staff Attorney Robert McNamara of the Institute for Justice (IJ), which is litigating the case and defends the rights of entrepreneurs nationwide. “Tour guides in Philadelphia deserve to be able to plan their lives without worrying whether the city’s going to decide to crack down on them in six weeks, six months or a year.”

IJ brought the lawsuit on behalf of three Philadelphia-area tour guides—Mike Tait, Ann Boulais, and Josh Silver—who understand that the First Amendment gives them the right to talk about their country’s history without first getting permission from government bureaucrats. The case has received significant national media attention, including a recentfront-page feature in the Wall Street Journal.

The court’s decision also lifts an injunction that has been blocking the law’s enforcement since October of last year. The court made clear, however, that its decision did not mean the law would survive constitutional scrutiny:

“Defendant’s financial inability to enforce the challenged law against plaintiffs or any other individual at this time vitiates ripeness. . . . If and when [defendant has the resources to enforce the law], plaintiffs may renew their constitutional challenge.”

IJ attorneys intend to appeal the ruling to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Government officials shouldn’t be allowed to hide in the bushes until they feel like jumping out and taking away your rights,” concluded McNamara. “The city’s budget woes do not put the Constitution on hold, and we have every intention of vindicating the rights of Philadelphia’s tour guides in court.”