Arlington City Council’s Covert Free Speech Restrictions

At the Oct. 28 meeting, the Arlington City Council enacted an amended sidewalk ordinance prohibiting pedestrians from dispensing literature while in the street to motorists. The move is sure to draw legal challenges from members of Open Carry Tarrant County, who successfully sued the city in federal court on the grounds that the restrictions passed in May were a violation of their free speech rights.

When giving testimony before the unanimous city council vote, Jacob Cordova, an organizer for OCTC, foresaw the outcome and said the group is up to the challenge. “I just kind of got up there and told them we would see them in federal court here soon,” he said.

It’s not often that a city is rebuked by a federal judge for violating a fundamental right in the Bill of Rights, but the city council members have taken the challenge as an opportunity to show just how disconnected they from ordinary residents. With direction by the same legal council that cost them thousands in legal fees, they worked in closed executive session for months to craft the ordinance revisions. They haven’t so much as given a courtesy call to Open Carry Tarrant County that the ordinance was up for discussion, let alone seek input from any local organizations to be affected by the restrictions.

Robert Harris, the Libertarian candidate for state House District 94, said that it wasn’t only gun rights supporters who would be affected. It’s also affecting local state House candidates. “This ordinance is in violation of state law, state statues. It’s in violation of election code, electioneering laws in this state. And I hope you realize that as of tomorrow morning, [Democrat nominee] Cole Ballweg’s people will be ticketed or arrested for what they are doing on the street, and so will [Republican nominee] Tony Tinderholt’s people who are campaigning, so will my people.”

Cordova said he didn’t think the council is responsive to public input. “It’s kind of getting tired. I felt that the citizens are making no moves or no waves, I guess, with out voice right. So while we voice our opinion, it gets us nowhere.” The three speakers who addressed the ordinance before the vote all spoke against it.

The revised ordinance prohibits pedestrians from entering the roadway at traffic light controlled intersections to pass out literature, even though they are allowed cross the street at those intersections.

Cordova didn’t rule out civil disobedience. “We don’t plan on getting arrested for it. We’re going to take it to court. However, if we do plan on getting arrested for it, we going to talk to our attorneys and find out what the best advice is. And if going is down happens to be what our option is, I might have to go down for something.”