A free speech appeal from tour guides in New Orleans who object to the city’s requirement that they be licensed was rejected Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices, without comment, left in place lower-court rulings that said the requirements don’t violate the First Amendment.
To get a license, guides must submit to background checks and take a test on New Orleans history and culture. Guides who drive vehicles on their tours are also required to take drug tests. Permit and test fees total $60, according to the city’s website.
Reaction among tour guides in New Orleans was mixed. Candance Kagan, one of four guides who filed the original lawsuit in 2011, said it involved freedom of speech and privacy issues — the law requires guides to provide a Social Security number. “It was never about the money,” she said, adding that she continues to give tours and is now licensed.
Other guides said they don’t mind the requirements.
“At least you know that the tour guides around the city have a good base knowledge of the real history that is New Orleans. Because you don’t want tourists to have the impression of being fed something that’s not true,” said Christine Bacharach.
“Our top priority throughout this entire process has been to ensure the safety of both tour guide leaders and customers, as well as to protect the integrity of the industry,” city spokesman Bradley Howard said in an email.
Monday’s Supreme Court action disappointed lawyers with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, an organization that filed the suit on behalf of the New Orleans guides. The organization fights what it sees as onerous occupational-licensing requirements.
They noted that while the federal circuit appeals court in New Orleans had upheld the city’s licensing requirements, the appeals court in the District of Columbia struck down similar rules in the nation’s capital.
“The D.C. court correctly saw tour-guide licensing for what it is: a violation of the basic First Amendment right to talk for a living,” Robert McNamara, an institute attorney, said in an emailed statement.
The New Orleans case is dead but the issue isn’t, according to Matt Miller, another Institute for Justice attorney. He pointed to a similar case the organization is litigating in Savannah, Georgia. “The Supreme Court will have to resolve this split at some point,” Miller said. “We’re just disappointed that they didn’t do it here.”