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Ordinance used to arrest Women’s March participant is constitutional, court rules

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a traffic ordinance cited in the arrest of a St. Louis County woman during a 2017 march was not unconstitutional.

The ruling reversed a lower court finding arising from the arrest of Jessica Langford during the Women’s March in January 2017 in St. Louis.

Officers said Langford was arrested for obstructing traffic after she didn’t move off of Market Street when officers were trying to reopen it after the march. The charge was later dropped when two officer didn’t appear for Langford’s trial.

Langford and the ACLU sued in 2018, contending the traffic ordinance was unconstitutional.

In March 2020, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey ruled the ordinance was overbroad for potentially regulating speech, and vague for not adequately describing prohibited conduct. He also said Langford “could not impede or interfere with traffic when there was no traffic present.”

The appeals court ruled Tuesday that the ordinance was a “basic traffic regulation” and didn’t forbid “all expressive activities on streets and sidewalks. It merely forbids a person to position herself in a way that obstructs the reasonable flow of traffic.”

The court said Langford and the ACLU did not show the ordinance was overbroad or too vague. The three-judge panel also said Langford had been arrested after she ignored several orders to disperse.

Tony Rothert, the ACLU’s legal director, said in an email that “It is no coincidence that time and again judges who hear the witnesses and watch the video evidence find that injunctions are necessary, but it is not surprising that a notoriously conservative court of appeals will endeavor to cherry-pick from the record to justify the status quo.”

He said the ACLU would continue to work with officials interested in reform to “effect dramatic change to the broken way government responds to the public in St. Louis.”

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