Through door-to-door democracy, the Indiana affiliate of the Citizens Action Coalition (CAC) has been able to advocate effectively for nearly four decades on behalf of Hoosiers. CAC canvassers go from house to house in residential neighborhoods during the evening hours to educate citizens and gather petition signatures on issues such as utility rates and regulations, health care, and the environment.
Once government places unnecessarily restrictive limitations on how we engage our neighbors or protest in public places, the core strength of America's democracy is diminished.
In 2012, two Indiana municipalities, the Town of Yorktown and the City of Jeffersonville, tried to limit this expressive activity by passing laws that required canvassers to endure lengthy and cost-prohibitive licensing procedures. If CAC were to have had 10 canvassers in Jeffersonville, for example, it would have been required to pay $1,000 in licensing fees. In Yorktown, it could cost each canvasser $50 per week in addition to the $150 application fee.
These laws also:
- restricted canvassing activity to certain hours
- mandated payment of substantial fees for each person applying for a license
- permitted a license action to be denied at the discretion of government officials
The Supreme Court of the United States has long recognized the importance of residential canvassing in ensuring a robust debate on public issues.
In 2013, the ACLU of Indiana, the CAC, and private attorneys filed lawsuits against these municipalities. We argued that the fees and directives imposed by both Yorktown and Jeffersonville for canvassers to engage in expressive activity violated the First Amendment.
Citizens Action Coalition, Inc. v. Town of Yorktown was filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, and Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana v. City of Jeffersonville was filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District New Albany Division. The Jeffersonville suit was dismissed after the city changed its ordinance.
In September 2014, the CAC won its suit against the Town of Yorktown. In the decision, Chief Judge Richard L. Young said, "In sum, the Ordinance is neither narrowly tailored to the Town's legitimate government interests, nor does it provide ample alternative methods for CAC. Accordingly, the Ordinance cannot survive constitutional scrutiny on its face or as applied."