Gansler put an end to (some of ) Leopold’s Hypocrisy

An actual cheer from the right for Attorney General Doug Gansler, for preserving free speech in Anne Arundel County over the objections of our hypocrite-in-chief John Leopold:

The new county panhandling ban that will take effect in less than a month will be enforced without one of the most controversial local proposals of the last General Assembly session….

…But candidates for upcoming elections still will get a chance to literally campaign on the road because the provision of the bill that would have outlawed people from standing on a highway to advertise any message, including political sign waving, has been deemed unconstitutional.

In May, without much fanfare, Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued an opinion that the advertising ban would violate the First Amendment. Mr. Leopold said this week the county will follow that decision.

The panhandling ban was part of Mr. Leopold’s legislative package for the last General Assembly session.

The county executive and Councilman Cathy Vitale, R-Severna Park, pushed for the ban because they were concerned panhandlers endanger themselves and the public by approaching moving cars in traffic.

“(The panhandling ban) was the essential reform I was trying to secure,” said Mr. Leopold, who has used roadside sign-waving extensively in his political career.

After the Senate passed the bill, the state Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the county House delegation that said the measure was constitutional.

But in a May 15 opinion from Mr. Gansler to Gov. Martin O’Malley, the attorney general says the House went too far by expanding the advertising prohibition from specific infrastructure such as median dividers, roadway cuts and overpasses to include “any other property acquired for the construction, operation, or use of the highway.”

“Rather than prohibiting advertising that distracts drivers or impedes them from seeing traffic controls or causes other safety hazards, the legislation prohibits the display of any message regardless of whether it furthers the State’s legitimate public safety concern,” the opinion states. “Thus, it burdens more speech than necessary.”

Although the advertising ban could apply to legitimate safety issues, such as large groups of sign-wavers standing near a busy highway, it could also outlaw benign behavior like holding an American flag, wearing a peace symbol, or walking down the street while wearing a campaign shirt, Mr. Gansler wrote.

“(I)t is our view that the ban on making any message from the broadly defined ‘highway’ area carries a significant risk that valid expressions that are clearly protected by the First Amendment will be chilled,” the opinion says.

Why it took four months for this news to get out is uncertain. But Leopold now says that merely wanted to panhandling ban, but continued to support the measure even after the sign-waving proviso was added. Something that I doubt Leopold would have supported had he not been elected County Executive, since the only reason Leopold even has a political career in Maryland is because he imported the concept of sign waving to Maryland from his past political life in Hawaii. It’s unfortunate that as a Republican he could not understand this basic First Amendment concept.

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Of course, I still find it hypocritical that Leopold spent 25 years engaging in the same behavior that he sought to ban, but I think that we all understand that John Leopold’s name is synonymous with hypocrisy….


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