Supreme Court vacates Worcester panhandling ruling

posted by Mike on June 29th, 2015

The US Supreme Court has told the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that the lower court made a wrong decision in upholding Worcester’s 2013 anti-panhandling ordinances.

Supreme Court of the United States [PDF]:

The motion of Homeless Empowerment Project for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for further consideration in light of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U. S. ___ (2015).

SCOTUSBlog: “When the Court “GVRs,” it “grants certiorari,” “vacates” the decision below, and “remands” a case to the lower court without hearing oral argument or deciding its merits. A GVR order is not accompanied by a written opinion addressing the merits of the case, but the Court usually provides some direction to the lower court by, for example, instructing it to reconsider its decision in light of a recent decision by the Supreme Court.”

The anti-begging ordinances, which began being enforced in February 2013, have stopped kids from holding fundraising events on street corners, but don’t seem to have cut down on the number of down-and-out adults panhandling in those same spots.

Part of Worcester’s anti-panhandling package discouraged people from wandering on traffic islands and in the road; part tried to keep people from being persistent or scary in their soliciting; another part set up hundreds of “no begging” zones around bus stops, ATMs, and doors. This court case focuses on the third set of ordinances, those establishing buffer zones for certain kinds of speech (asking for money or other things of value).

Reed v. Town of Gilbert held that certain “content-based regulations of speech” were not allowed.

For what it’s worth, I remain mildly opposed to the anti-begging ordinances and majorly opposed to the shoddy process through which they were enacted.


The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert confirms that laws regulating speech are subject to the strictest scrutiny when they hinge on the content of the speech. And the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley holds that buffer zones banning speech are rarely if ever constitutional.

How, in light of those decisions, can Worcester enforce hundreds or thousands of buffer zones that prohibit begging but do not prohibit other kinds of speech? The answer is that Worcester absolutely cannot do that.

508 #256: This Drone Survived 508

posted by Mike on June 26th, 2015

508 is a show about Worcester. This week’s guest is drone enthusiast and “This Car Survived Kelley Square” creator Chris Markman. We talk about unmanned flying machines and Worcester’s capital budget.

Audio: Download the mp3 or see more formats.

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508 #255: Election Introduction

posted by Mike on June 11th, 2015

508 is a show about Worcester. This week’s panel is Brendan Melican and Paul Cooney. We hash out the questions we’d like to ask this year’s Worcester City Council challengers.

Audio: Download the mp3 or see more formats.

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Donna will leave Worcester’s Mustard Seed

posted by Mike on May 13th, 2015

Telegram & Gazette:

On June 1, Ms. Domiziano, an unpaid volunteer of nearly 30 years, will finally be leaving. However, her missive came not from God, she says, but a formal letter.

…The organization’s founders had, via a letter delivered by a local pastor, informed her of vital changes to the operation that would drastically limit her autonomy.

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508 #254: Questions

posted by Mike on April 30th, 2015

Every election year, inspired by Jay Rosen, we ask: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year’s Worcester City Council election?”

We sift through the suggested questions and pick 3 or 4. Then, we try to interview every City Council challenger on the show, asking those same questions.

To prime the pump, this week we get some suggestions from Brendan Melican, Bill Coleman, and Virginia Ryan.

Audio: Download the mp3 or see more formats.

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posted by Mike in 508, Worcester | on April 30th, 2015 | Permanent Link to “508 #254: Questions” | No Comments »

508 #253: Making Our Mark

posted by Mike on February 8th, 2015

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk with some Worcester Public Schools art teachers, at the opening of their group show at the Sprinkler Factory, “Making Our Mark.” Guests include Keri Anderson, Jay Benotti, Christine Cross, Alana Juneau, Stacy Lord, Cory Shepherd, Michael Walden, and Fran Warner.

Audio: Download the mp3 or see more formats.

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posted by Mike in 508, Worcester | on February 8th, 2015 | Permanent Link to “508 #253: Making Our Mark” | No Comments »

508 #252: You Won’t Believe What These Journalists Just Said About Worcester

posted by Mike on January 31st, 2015

508 is a show about Worcester. This week’s guests are former Worcester Magazine editor Brittany Durgin, and former T&G online director Mark Henderson, now of The Worcester Sun. We talk about the state of Worcester journalism, exciting new projects, and staying warm.

Audio: Download the mp3 or see more formats.

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Staying warm:

Love in the Time of Ebola

posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy on January 30th, 2015

bethuneSome Americans responded to the ebola epidemic in West Africa by offering to care for the victims. Unfortunately, most of us were swept up in fear of the disease’s dreadful symptoms and mortality rate. Proposals circulated to block all flights to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Emblematic of the hysteria, a Catholic school teacher and registered nurse from Louisville, Kentucky was forced to resign after returning from a medical mission to Kenya, even though she was never closer than 3,000 miles from the ebola outbreaks.

Fundamental changes in how we treat African visitors and returning medical volunteers were proposed for a disease that ultimately killed only two people on US soil. One can only imagine the draconian measures that would be adopted in a real pandemic.
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posted by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy in Religion, Worcester | on January 30th, 2015 | Permanent Link to “Love in the Time of Ebola” | 2 Comments »

508 #251: #blacklivesmatter

posted by Mike on January 24th, 2015

508 is a show about Worcester. This week’s guest is Julius Jones. We talk about the Pulse’s “Ones to Watch” list, Communities United and #BlackLivesMatter, and the rapidly diminishing ranks of local pro journalists. Also: Follow us on Twitter.

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Worcester Panhandling Update: the New York Times and the Supreme Court

posted by Mike on December 8th, 2014

It’s coming up on 2 years since Worcester passed its latest ordinance against begging.

I didn’t see any kids fundraising for little league over the summer. There still seem to be plenty of scruffy men with signs panhandling cars. I’m hoping we will soon get a report on the overall effects of the law.

The NYT today has a good roundup of the legal situation with the ordinance. The case may end up in front of the US Supreme Court.

A city ordinance enacted last year banned “aggressive begging,” but it used an idiosyncratic definition of what counts as aggressive. It encompasses any begging — including silently asking for spare change with a cup or a sign — as long as it is within 20 feet of a bank, bus stop, pay phone, theater, outdoor cafe or anywhere people are waiting in line.

The Supreme Court has said that asking for money is speech protected by the First Amendment. But in June, the federal appeals court in Boston rejected a challenge to the 20-foot buffer zones, saying they were justified by the unease that panhandling can cause.

A week later, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that had established 35-foot buffer zones around the state’s abortion clinics, including one in Worcester. The court said the law, which banned counseling, protests and other speech near the clinics, violated the First Amendment.

There was a tension between the two decisions, and lawyers for the plaintiffs in the begging case asked the appeals court to reconsider its ruling in light of the abortion case. The appeals court turned them down.

I appreciate the paper of record validating that our law is “idiosyncratic.”