Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force to tackle toplessness and other serious threats to the Republic has recommended that the neighborhood’s pedestrian plazas be strictly regulated.
According to the Times, new laws would seek to restrict costumed characters, desnudas, and other citizens engaging in legal activity to what the Times Square Alliance has called “designated activity zones” within the next year or so. “We want to be responsible, and we want it to be constitutionally robust,” Councilmember Corey Johnson, who represents the area, told the paper.
“It sounds like they think they’re getting a handle on the problem, but I think it’s a little more slippery than they think,” civil rights attorney Ron Kuby told us…
Kuby drew the distinction between permissible First Amendment restrictions that are “content neutral,” and those that are not.
“Saying that no one has access to close down Sixth Ave on weekdays between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. is content neutral—it doesn’t matter what your cause is, whether you’re for the Israelis or Palestinians, or anti-ISIS, or long-live Osama, no one can do that,” he said. “On the other hand, if you were to enact a piece of legislation that said, for example, that people who are engaged in panhandling or have their shirts off may only do so at this time and place and location, that is absolutely classic content-based restriction.”
While Councilmember Johnson told the Times that the restrictions would also apply to “CD sellers, bus-ticket sellers, everyone who is currently using these plazas for commercial activity,” Kuby says that comments from NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio have explicitly singled out citizens engaging in legal activity.
“Part of the problem the City has at this point is that even if they try to write a piece of legislation that sounds content-neutral, they’ve already made it clear that this is based on tickle-me Elmos and bare boobs,” Kuby said, noting that “courts are not required to ignore the social and political history that leads up to the piece of legislation…”