June 12, 2018
Edward Sifuentes
(619) 501-3408

ACLU: CA Law Used to Cite Drivers Who Honk Their Horns During Protests is Unconstitutional

Lawsuit Filed After Sheriff’ Deputy Tickets Woman For Using Her Car Horn To Express Support For Demonstrators Outside Congressman’s Vista Office

SAN DIEGO – Yesterday, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Foley & Lardner LLP filed a lawsuit challenging as unconstitutional a state law used to ticket a driver who sounded her horn during a demonstration in Vista last year. The suit argues that using a vehicle’s horn to express support for the demonstration is protected speech.

“In this politically charged climate, it is especially important that protected speech not be silenced using a clearly unconstitutional law and its arbitrary application,” said David Loy, legal director for the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The case stems from a citation issued to a participant in one of the hour-long demonstrations held outside Congressman Darrell Issa’s district office every Tuesday. On Oct. 17, 2017, after deputy sheriffs arrived and issued a number of citations during the protest, Susan Porter moved her car. While driving past other demonstrators, she honked her horn to express support as other drivers had done.

A sheriff’s deputy immediately followed and pulled Porter over. The deputy issued her a citation for the violation of Vehicle Code § 27001, which prohibits sounding the horn for anything other than safety reasons or as part of an anti-theft alarm system.

The lawsuit argues the statute violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, section 2 of the California Constitution on its face or as applied to protected speech by prohibiting nearly all expressive uses of a horn. It is also an unconstitutional content-based regulation of speech because the use of a vehicle’s horn as a warning or theft alarm is permitted but not to express other messages. This case involves the use of a horn to express a political message, which is entitled to the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.

“We are pleased to be able to support the efforts of the ACLU to preserve and protect the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment,” said Foley & Lardner partner Mark Waxman.

Porter’s citation was dismissed on Feb. 5, 2018, after the deputy failed to appear in court.