Federal judge declares City’s efforts targeting day laborers and Texas anti-solicitation law are unconstitutional under the First Amendment

HOUSTON, TX - MALDEF has secured victory in a lawsuit filed in federal district court, challenging League City’s local policy and practices targeting day laborers and their First Amendment right to seek employment in public areas, as well as a state statute that prohibited solicitation of employment. MALDEF filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Jornaleros de las Palmas, an association of day laborers whose members have been restricted from peaceably expressing their need and availability for employment in the City’s public areas due to the policy and the state law.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "The First Amendment belongs to us all -- to day laborers as much as to the most well-heeled politician or corporation. The court's decision is yet further vindication of this sacred constitutional principle.”

In 2009, the League City Police Department initiated a “crackdown” on day laborers by aggressively enforcing the state’s pedestrian solicitation law against day laborers. Police engaged in a campaign of harassment against Latino day laborers, including intimidation tactics, extensive police patrols and surveillance, and citations, arrests, and fines against day laborers lawfully seeking employment. MALDEF’s lawsuit also challenged Texas’ anti-solicitation law, which authorizes cities to favor certain types of charitable solicitation speech to enter roadways without violating the law. In his findings and conclusions issued late Friday, May 17, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Stephen Wm. Smith determined that both the City’s campaign targeting day laborers and the State’s anti-solicitation law violated the day laborers’ First Amendment right to free speech under the United States Constitution.

“This ruling sends a clear message to League City that the City cannot single out day laborers and violate their free speech,” said Marisa Bono, lead counsel in the case for MALDEF. “Day laborers have the same right to seek work as anyone else. Hopefully, League City will choose to comply with the Court’s order and the U.S. Constitution instead of continuing to waste taxpayer’s money with an appeal.”

League City attempted to justify its operations on the basis of public safety, though city records did not show a single traffic accident attributed to day laborers, and the city repeatedly allowed other residents to solicit without interference. Judge Smith noted that more effective means were readily at hand, such as the enforcement of the state’s existing traffic and criminal laws. The court found that laws that restrict more protected speech than necessary violate the First Amendment. The court is expected to issue its final judgment and permanent injunction in June.

MALDEF has a decades-long history of defending the First Amendment rights of day laborers throughout the country. Federal courts throughout the country have consistently struck down anti-solicitation ordinances, and have ruled in favor of preserving the free speech rights of day laborers. This lawsuit falls in line with those cases and helped vindicate MALDEF’s clients’ rights.

The decision can be found here.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund