Arlington, Va.—May the city of New Orleans subject local tour guides to hundreds of dollars in fines and five months in jail for engaging in unauthorized talking?
This is the question that Judge Susie Morgan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana will consider when she hears argument on Thursday, September 6, in a First Amendment challenge to New Orleans licensing law for tour guides. Four area tour guides are joining forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ)—a nonprofit, public interest law firm—to strike down the law as a violation of their fundamental constitutional rights.
“The government cannot be in the business of deciding who may speak and who may not,” said Matt Miller, lead counsel in the lawsuit and attorney with IJ. “The Constitution protects your right to communicate for a living, whether you are a journalist, a street performer or a tour guide.”
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 occurrence and five months in jail.
Challenging the law are four New Orleans tour guides—Candance Kagan, Mary LaCoste, Joycelyn Cole and Annette Watt—who are fighting to protect their First Amendment right to communicate for a living.
Candance Kagan is a New Orleans native and tour guide. She explained, “The government doesn’t do drug tests on Salvation Army bell-ringers and it doesn’t do criminal background checks on people who lead parades, so why should it do those things to tour guides who just want to show people this beautiful city and talk about its history?”
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.
IJ Attorney Paul Sherman said, “These lawsuits seek to resolve one of the most important unanswered questions in First Amendment law: Can occupational-licensing laws trump free speech?”
Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that fights for free speech and economic liberty nationwide. For more information on today’s lawsuit, including a one-stop-shopping case backgrounder and high-res images of the clients, please visit www.IJ.org/NOLATours.