U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Tour-Guide Lawsuit

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · February 23, 2015

Arlington, Va.—The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review a challenge to a New Orleans law making it illegal to give a paid tour of the city without first passing a history test and obtaining a license from the government. The law had been upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, though a nearly identical Washington, D.C. law was struck down last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“The D.C. court correctly saw tour-guide licensing for what it is: a violation of the basic First Amendment right to talk for a living,” said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs in both New Orleans and Washington, D.C. “The Supreme Court is eventually going to resolve this disagreement among the courts of appeal.”

“It is important to protest, even if you don’t win,” said Joyce Cole, IJ client and New Orleans tour guide. “I’m so glad we did this.”

The issue of tour-guide licensing has implications for other cities around the country. The Institute for Justice is already challenging tour-guide licensing in Savannah, Ga. Several other cities—including New York City—impose similar testing requirements on guides before they are allowed to speak to tourists.

“Tour guides are storytellers,” explained Robert Everett Johnson, lead attorney in the Savannah case. “And in this country, you don’t need a license to tell a story.”

“The government has no more business protecting the public from unlicensed tour guides than it does protecting the public from unfunny stand-up comedians,’ said Matt Miller, managing attorney for the Institute for Justice Texas Office. “In this country, we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to. We don’t rely on the government to decide who gets to speak.”

These challenges to tour-guide licensing are part of the Institute for Justice’s nationwide defense of occupational speech. In recent years, licensing authorities in cities and state across the country have increasingly attempted to regulate people who simply communicate for a living, including attempts to prohibit speech related to everything from parenting advice to pet care.

“Millions of people across the country—tour guides, comedians, consultants and more—speak for a living,” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman. “The rights of all of these people hang in the balance, and the Institute for Justice will not rest until their rights are secure.”

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