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The ACLU of Delaware Successfully Advocates for Repeal of Wilmington Panhandling Laws

Paul, Weiss represented pro bono client the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware in successfully advocating, along with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), for the repeal of the city of Wilmington’s panhandling ordinances, which limited when, where and how people were allowed to panhandle.

The ACLU of Delaware and the NLCHP first approached the city of Wilmington with a demand letter in July 2019, calling for an immediate moratorium on enforcement and a rapid repeal of these unconstitutional and inhumane laws to avoid potential litigation. The letter stated that “[s]ince the landmark Supreme Court case Reed v. Gilbert was decided in 2015, every panhandling ordinance challenged in federal court … has been found unconstitutional or resulted in the repeal of that ordinance. Wilmington’s ordinance similarly violates the constitutional right to free speech protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and it is also bad policy,” being costly to enforce and merely treating the symptoms rather than solving the problem of homelessness.

The team’s advocacy, which also included a subsequent meeting with the Wilmington mayor’s office, led to a successful outcome on January 16, 2020, when a majority of the Wilmington City Council approved an ordinance to remove portions of the city code criminalizing panhandling. The ordinance repeals panhandling laws that banned panhandling when the sun is down, at bus stops and at certain times of day, and repeals a provision that required a permit for panhandling.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation partner Jane O’Brien and associate Meghan Dougherty.

January 24, 2020

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