Wichita’s noise ordinance struck down by Kansas Supreme Court over First Amendment issue

Gabrielle Griffie was protesting police brutality following George Floyd’s death in 2020. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the ordinance violates First Amendment rights.

by Blaise Mesa

An ordinance used to convict a Wichitan protesting police brutality was ruled unconstitutional Friday by the Kansas Supreme Court. 

The ordinance criminalizes “noisy conduct tending to reasonably arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others.” 

That’s just too broad, the state’s high court ruled. 

“We conclude the noisy conduct provision within is unconstitutionally overbroad because it prohibits a substantial amount of protected activity,” said Justice Melissa Standridge in the ruling

Gabrielle Griffie was cited after a 2020 protest over the death of George Floyd. Protesters were blocking two lanes on a four-lane road, though court documents say the streets were mostly empty. Police tried to divert traffic but one car had a brief interaction with protesters. 

The driver honked, slowed his car down and honked again before “colliding” with a protester. The protesters then began chanting at the federal courthouse. Facebook video was reviewed by police days later and Griffie was cited for violating the ordinance. She was later found guilty at trial.

She was given a $346.50 fine, which she could have paid off by doing about 70 hours of community service. That sentence was overturned by the court’s decision.  

The ordinance survived legal challenges in the district court and Kansas Court of Appeals, but the Supreme Court justices disagreed with past rulings. 

Standridge said during oral arguments in September 2023 that gun rights protests, picketing at abortion clinics, flipping someone off or making fun of their sports team can all make someone resentful. That would be illegal based on the way the law’s written. 

Nate Johnson, who defended the ordinance in front of the Kansas Supreme Court, argued the law only criminalizes things reasonable people would be offended by. Protesting — which is a constitutional right — shouldn’t reasonably offend people.

“This ordinance protects against noisy, disorderly conduct,” he told justices.

He also noted that similar laws have been on the books since the late 1960s. 

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Caleb Stegall said many cities have noise ordinances limiting things otherwise protected by the First Amendment. But those ordinances are allowed because of time, place and manner restrictions — which regulate when, where and how expressions take place. 

Stegall said a legal test to determine if any law would fit in that category wasn’t done properly in testing the Wichita ordinance. 

“How this particular noise restriction — which is admittedly quite broad — would fare under a proper time, place, or manner review is uncertain at best,” Stegall wrote.

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon