Philly Tour Guides Take Their Fight for Free Speech to the U.S. Court of Appeals

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 10, 2011

Can the city of Philadelphia’s budget priorities trump the Constitution?

That’s the question being debated today at the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Tait v. City of Philadelphia. The tour guide licensing lawsuit has generating significant local and national media coverage, including All Things Considered, Marketplace and a front page feature in the Wall Street Journal.

In 2008, the city of Philadelphia passed a law making it illegal to give a tour of the city without first passing a test and obtaining a special government license. The Institute for Justice filed a constitutional challenge to that law because, as lead attorney in the case Robert McNamara puts it, “the First Amendment protects your right to communicate for a living, whether you are a journalist, a stand-up comedian or a tour guide.”

In 2009, the city asked a federal district judge to dismiss the lawsuit without considering the constitutional argument because it had not allocated money in its budget to start enforcing the law immediately. That’s why today the Institute for Justice will argue before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that the city’s budget priorities cannot trump the Constitution.

According to McNamara, “The Institute for Justice is determined to vindicate the First Amendment rights of ordinary Philadelphians to talk to each other about their city and its history. And to make clear to city officials, in court, that they do not have the power to fine people for unauthorized talking.”

McNamara is the author of Philadelphia: No Brotherly Love for Entrepreneurs, a study examining the state of entrepreneurship in Philadelphia. In September, McNamara filed a similar tour guide lawsuit in the nation’s capital, where talking about the Bill of Rights can land guides in jail for 90 days.

Founded in 1991, the Arlington-based Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for economic liberty. IJ is also online at facebook, You Tube and twitter.