Stop criminalizing homeless persons, ACLU of Wisconsin tells city of MadisonCreative commons photo by Flickr user Alex E. Proimos


August 11, 2015

MADISON – Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin notified the city of Madison that a recent Appeals Court case makes clear that its anti-panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

Three years ago, the city banned its residents from even peacefully soliciting donations in most of downtown. “Back in 2012, we wrote to the city of Madison and told them that the ordinance appeared to be unconstitutional,” said Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “And last week’s case from the federal court of appeals in Chicago – invalidating an almost identical law from Springfield, Illinois - shows we were right.”

On August 7, the Seventh Circuit court of appeals in Chicago found that by prohibiting people from asking for donations, the Springfield ordinance unconstitutionally discriminated based on the content of a speaker’s words, in violation of the First Amendment.

“Not only must Madison repeal its anti-panhandling ordinance, but it also needs to stop trying to criminalize homelessness,” added Rotker. “Instead, the city should move forward with positive steps to resolve the problem, such as establishing a day shelter and vigorously pursuing the Zero:2016 plan to end veterans homelessness this year and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.”

A copy of the letter to Mayor Soglin is below.


The ACLU of Wisconsin is a non-profit, non-partisan, private organization whose 7,000 members support its efforts to defend the civil rights and liberties of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison.