Like many of us, Helen lives in an area that is covered by restrictive covenants. You were given a copy when you bought your house and you probably never read them. Helen’s neighbor. Mr. V, read his copy and found that chickens were prohibited. Not the Kentucky Fried kind of chickens, or the baked 8 piece from Safeway, no, just the ones that are were living in Helen’s backyard. Mr. V complained and Helen received a letter from the homeowners’ association asking her to turn her chickens into the Kentucky Fried style. Helen was mad and got up early the next day and honked a car horn in front of Mr. V’s house, just a little before 6 AM, for about 5 to 10 minutes. She woke up Mr. V who promptly called the cops. Sergeant Casey arrived (hopefully with his siren silent) to take Mr. V’s complaint. Helen drove past and honked again, three times no less. The Sergeant, doing his duty, promptly arrested Helen for violating the local noise ordinance that prohibited the sounding of a horn for purposes other than public safety (although one might inquire about the safety of the about to be fried chickens). The district court judge and jury proceeded to convict Helen and the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.
Enter the Washington Supreme Court. Picture six of the nine Justices riding horseback onto the scene. We may all laugh a little at a horn honking chicken frying case making its way to the Supreme Court. But, listen to Justice Stephens, “A moment’s reflection brings to mind numerous occasions in which a person honking a vehicle horn will be engaging in speech intended to communicate a message that will be understood in context. Examples might include: a driver of a carpool vehicle who toots a horn to let a coworker know it is time to go, a driver who enthusiastically responds to a sign that says “honk if you support our troops,” wedding guests who celebrate nuptials by sounding their horns, and a motorist who honks a horn in support of an individual picketing on a street corner. Thus, we reject the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that horn honking is a type of conduct that does not involve speech. Horn honking does constitute protected speech in many instances, regardless of whether it would constitute protected speech in Immelt’s particular case.”
Think about it, Helen’s annoying early morning chicken protest honking is important to all of us, and the Washington Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, reminds us of how important our Constitution is to us. The horn ordinance is “overbroad” in that it sweeps into its prohibitions constitutionally protected speech. Because the ordinance would stop you and me from honking our horns to support our troops or a picketer on a street corner, we must toss out Helen’s chicken honking case and free Helen. The Supreme Court is spot on and my hat’s off to the six Justices.
Take a little time and have a look at our Supreme Court at work, in State of Washington v. Immelt: http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/?fa=opinions.disp&filename=833435MAJ.
If court cases can ever be fun, this one certainly makes the list. Honk your horn if you like the Constitution – it’s constitutional.