NEW ORLEANS: The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Louisiana has announced today the filing of a federal lawsuit to challenge the excessive escort fees and unfair permit schemes applied to Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and second line parading groups in New Orleans. A city ordinance allows the police chief impermissible discretion in charging groups seeking to parade or demonstrate. Despite pleading by the plaintiffs and their attorneys to Chief Riley for reasonable fees, one-band/ one-division second line parades will still have to pay $3,760 in addition to posting a $10,000 bond required by state law. This amount will effectively prevent the holding of future parades, infringing on the First Amendment rights of the plaintiffs.
"A unique cultural and historical tradition of African Americans will be taxed out of existence without relief from the court," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "This tradition is so important for the rebirth of New Orleans and for those still struggling with the loss of family, unity, home and normalcy."
Months ago the ACLU sent public demand letters on behalf of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force to Chief Warren Riley requesting relief that would avoid litigation, but to no avail. Despite a letter from a city attorney advising that they were "reviewing" the matter, the fees have not been modified. Second line parade season has begun in earnest, so the ACLU is seeking emergency relief in federal court.
"The City Code allows the police chief enormous discretion in deciding when to assess police escort fees, and how much to assess," according to ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann. "Courts have held that this discretion is unconstitutional. Although the police chief cites extra costs due to violence in the crowd at some Second Line events, imposing fees because of the behavior of a hostile audience is constitutionally impermissible."
The ACLU represents the Task Force and other named plaintiffs affected by the ordinances and state law. The named defendants are the City of New Orleans, Mayor Nagin, Chief Riley and Governor Blanco. Cooperating attorney Carol Kolinchak and Staff Attorney Katie Schwartzmann represent the plaintiffs.
The ACLU is the oldest and foremost defender of all civil liberties embodied in the Constitution. The ACLU defends the rights of individuals without regard to their beliefs or the message they convey.
See the complaint filed here.
See the Memorandum here.