Medford attorney Bill Mansfield's lawsuit challenging Ashland's downtown exclusion zone ordinance on constitutional grounds has been tossed out — not on its merits, but because the suit's plaintiffs lack standing because they are not personally affected by the ordinance. Mansfield and co-plaintiff Carol Voisin say they'll re-file, but before they do they might want to find a better constitutional argument.
The ordinance allows police to bar individuals from the downtown zone after they commit three offenses in a six-month period, including urinating in public, drinking in public, assault and harassment. In other words, crimes.
Critics of the law say it unfairly targets the homeless, although it addresses behavior, not identity. Still, a case could be made that the intent of the law is to limit the presence of homeless people downtown. But that's not what the lawsuit does.
Mansfield argues those excluded under the ordinance are being denied their constitutional right to assemble, guaranteed under the First Amendment. There are a few problems with this approach.
"The people" are not being denied the right to assemble — only those who have been excluded, and only from that specific zone. The First Amendment also says "peaceably to assemble." Assault, for one, is not peaceable.
Criminals in prison don't generally complain that their right to assemble is being curtailed, and they wouldn't get far if they did. It's understood that society may punish those who break the rules by restricting certain freedoms.
The exclusion ordinance is aimed at punishing criminal behavior, not restricting constitutional rights.