Michigan panhandler law struck down

The Associated Press has reported that U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker has ruled a state law banning panhandling in public places violates First Amendment protections for free speech and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The opinion concerns James Speet and Ernest Sims, two Grand Rapids men arrested in 2011 for begging. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Speet, who is homeless, was arrested for holding up signs seeking “work or help.” Sims pleaded guilty to panhandling after asking for spare change. Both men receive food stamps, and Sims also receives $260 per month in state disability insurance.

Grand Rapids enforced the panhandling ban 399 times between Jan. 1, 2008, and May 24, 2011, the ACLU said.

“Pending future developments in this case, Grand Rapids police will not be enforcing this state law,” said Catherine Mish, Grand Rapids’ city attorney, adding that it’s too early to tell whether an appeal will be filed.

Brewery rages against state’s LCC machine

If you’re a microbrewer and have Hunter S. Thompson’s illustrator as your graphics guru, there’s the expectation of at least some people taking critical notice.

The Liquor Control Commission certainly did. It denied Frederick, Md.-based Flying Dog Brewery its request to register the Ralph Steadman-designed label for “Raging Bitch” beer in Michigan.

“It’s really incredible that, in 2011, we’re still talking about moral crusades by the liquor commission,” attorney Alan Gura told The Grand Rapids Press shortly after filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

According to the Press report:

The state says the LCC can reject any beer label “that is deemed to promote violence, racism, sexism, intemperance, or intoxication or to be detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the general public.”

It determined that Raging Bitch is degrading to women, with illustrations on the label depicting female body parts, Assistant Attorney General Melinda Leonard said.

The standard for an injunction is high, but [U.S. District Judge Robert] Jonker told state attorneys they also face hurdles if they want to prevail in the lawsuit.

The state already has approved controversial labels.

“Do you think Doggy Style Pale Ale is better?” the judge asked the state attorney. “Or In-Heat Wheat? Do you think they’re substantially different? How about Dirty Bastard?,” the latter a reference to a Grand Rapids-based Founders dark brew.

Jonker wasn’t impressed by the brewer’s First Amendment claims, either. The state isn’t preventing free speech, but preventing the sale of beer with that particular label.

“Selling beer is not exactly the focal point of the First Amendment,” he said.

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